As learning de-institutionalizes, we are moving toward an expanded learning ecosystem that has the potential to provide radically personalized learning for all young people. It also has the potential to let many learners fall through the cracks or simply survive – but not thrive – in failing institutions and disrupted learning environments.
A recent webinar that I facilitated with alumni of the Noyce Leadership Institute helped advance my thinking about how we might all collaborate to ensure that the learning ecosystem is vibrant and that all learners can thrive within it. One way of approaching that crucial challenge might be to think in terms of local learning ecologies’ co-existing and overlapping within the broader learning ecosystem.
Some attempts to map local learning ecologies have been emerging (see our community learning resources map, an artifact from the future, for an example of what such a map might look like). Surfacing local learning opportunities and their intersections seems helpful. But they aren’t necessarily going to add up to a system that seems coherent from the perspective of how we’ve been accustomed to thinking about education systems. As one participant suggested, it could be more about creating anchors than about putting all the pieces back together.
Another suggested that we might think in terms of riparian zones or wildlife corridors, the idea being that establishing learning corridors could be one way to begin to connect the nodes across a local learning ecology. Institutions – schools, museums, libraries, and others that step up to the challenge – might serve as buffer zones in communities, particularly while we are bridging from today’s education system to an expanded learning ecosystem.
The people working in institutions could then function as learning agents in a variety of ways, an important one being to serve as guides who help learners and their families discover the learning corridors and find strategies for making strong use of them. These guides’ early efforts could help people see pathways for migrating from today’s landscape to the new one.
As you can see, the group engaged very thoughtfully with the learning ecosystem metaphor, highlighting how much we can learn from natural systems as education shifts from an industrial era model to a living system. As part of that, designing strategies for what one participant called “the bridging times” could be a useful way of supporting all learners in adapting to the emerging learning landscape.