Cultivating Ecosystem Interconnections

Topics: Future of Learning

I’m excited to announce the release of a new paper that I’ve authored long-time collaborator Andrea Saveri and KnowledgeWorks colleague Jason Swanson.  “Cultivating Interconnections for Vibrant and Equitable Learning Ecosystems” explores how education stakeholders might make the expanding learning ecosystem vibrant for all learners.  Specifically, the paper explores:

  • What kinds of learning ecosystem interconnections might help participants create vibrant learning ecosystems
  • What learning ecosystems might look like in different high-need geographies.

By learning ecosystem, we mean a network of relationships among learning agents, learners, resources, and assets in a specific social, economic, and geographic context.

As we look ten years out, we see great potential for education stakeholders to create diverse learning ecosystems that are learner centered, equitable, modular and interoperable, and resilient.  But we worry that we might be more likely to create fractured landscapes in which only those learners whose families have the time, money, and commitment to customize or supplement their learning journeys have access to high-quality personalized learning that reflects their interests and meets their needs.

We worry about equity because our current education system is not equitable, despite judicial and legislative intentions.  In writing this paper, Andrea, Jason, and I grounded that concern by taking a close look at four high-need geographies.  We imagined how ecosystem participants might address learners’ needs in new ways through flexible value webs to which many kinds of organizations and individuals might contribute.

Here are some highlights of our stories about vibrant and equitable learning ecosystems of 2025:

  • Poor urban neighborhoods – Urban learning crews provide personalized learning and deep social support to middle and high school aged students, causing dropout rates to plummet.
  • Disrupted suburbs – An education-employment consortium expands job mobility in struggling suburbs by creating flexible and intersecting education and career pathways.
  • Poor rural communities – A rural learning commons provides a new layer of infrastructure that seeds educator development and expands access to cross-cultural learning experiences.
  • Incarcerated settings – A restorative justice network facilitates classroom- and community-based learning opportunities for inmates through social entrepreneurship, linking inmates’ learning experiences in jail to productive work and projects in local communities.

These stories reflect value webs created by ecosystem participants occupying three kinds of structural roles: concentrators, fragmenters, and catalysts.  To read more about these structural roles and current signals of change pointing toward new possibilities for learning ecosystems in high-need geographies, read the full paper.  We’ll look forward to hearing what you think!