Tuesday, May 17

A Network of Micro-Schools is The Future of Learning

This weekend I co-curated and hosted the first Innovation Ed Conference which brought together parents, educators, entrepreneurs and investors to explore where learning can and should be going.  

Here's the transcript of my talk from the conference on The Future of Learning:

"Eight years ago I co-founded for Bay Area families who are educating their kids independently, outside of school.  The group has grown to include a couple thousand people and based on their experience...it's clear that radically customized learning is extremely effective and produces self-directed and engaged learners.

Yet whenever I hear from [Innovative Schools] like [Khan Lab School and especially Brightworks] I'm envious of the resources accessible to them; consistent community, physical space and learning structures.

So, I want to talk about the possibility of merging the benefits of school with the freedom, agility and customization enjoyed by independent learners.  I want to talk about the growing trend-- what I believe will be a massive explosion-- in the availability of micro-schools and independent learning centers.

"A micro-school as I'm using the term today is a place where a small group of people gather to learn and create in highly customizable ways." 

Consider other recent entrepreneurial trends; The Co-Working Space has grown out of the need for adults to come together to network and share resources, where they otherwise might have had to choose between a 9-5 job and relative isolation as an artist, freelancer or entrepreneur.  Hackers Spaces allow people to share equipment and tools and to build things together.  Meet-up and General Assembly offer courses and gatherings for like-minded people to connect and learn together.  Amazing, effective and timely offerings!  And they're almost entirely geared towards ADULTS.

Why not apply these same principles to learning options for teens?

It's the perfect time. Research shows that the current generation of young people are used to individualization and customization and if given a choice they are not willing to stick around if they aren't receiving relevant personal benefit or growth.  And while the current trend of DIYL — (do-it-yourself learning) is strong and exciting, young people don't want to learn in isolation any more than adult freelancers want to work at home alone in their living rooms.

Add to that the fact that we live in time and place where there is simply not yet enough schools like the ones we've heard from today and independent learning spaces and micro-schools seem like an affordable, agile and customizable solution for young learners to come together, to build, to make, to collaborate, learn, study and to just be together.  And the beautiful thing is that there's no limit to how many can exist.  

All that's needed is an individual with a vision; It might be a teacher, or a parent, or an entrepreneur with the vision.  Guess what.  It could even be a student!  

Maybe you imagine something part-time, maybe you need a full-time program or maybe it's a series of specialty classes.  It could be in one location, at a home, a business or in a community center. Or maybe the micro-school of your dreams is a series of pop-up environments, or interactive experiences, or a roving field trip series.  The options are really unlimited.

But this is not a new idea; It's already happening.  Micro-learning environments exist in the form of parent-run learning co-ops for all ages, where a group of families come together, hire a teacher and design or commission the curriculum for their kids.  They exist when an enterprising teacher gathers small groups of students to learn together in one-room schoolhouses.  Educators are taking ownership of education and running small businesses offering modularized classes in various subjects at Quantum Camp and Share Path Academy (just to name a few) where kids and families can choose one a la carte class or sign up for a whole day or multiple days.  

Outschool has begun to aggregate the class offerings available for and by micro-schools, and Cottage Class is innovating around connecting spaces, teachers and families as well as exploring the possibility of accessing space in senior homes and libraries.

What's needed?  Simply more and better.  More collaboration; better connectivity. 

Imagine a network of micro-schools coming together to share the resources that are usually only available to larger organizations like sports and theater facilities or social events.  

Increasingly we need to find new ways to connect the people who are already creating micro-learning environments and to inspire more people to create new versions, with the sky as the limit.  Perhaps we can even collaborate and build relationships between micro-schools and some of larger schools represented here today.  

I think we're all in agreement that student-centered engagement-based learning is what is needed.  If we really want to see it happen the way it could, we're all needed.  We need parents who really understand the degree of individualization possible, educators who are ready to take advantage of the agility a small organization offers, entrepreneurs who see the opportunity and growing market in direct-to-consumer learning...and kids who have the courage to step up and insist that we let them join the party.

We didn't plan this conference to provide all the answers...mostly because we don't have them.  Rather we know that so many of you have solved pieces of the puzzle.  We want you to talk to each other, today and going forward.  Make connections, challenge assumptions, brainstorm possibility!"

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