Moving Away From ‘One Size Fits No One’ to Learner-Centered Ecosystems


Supporting educational transformation through supportive state policyMore and more organizations and communities are taking an ecosystem approach to supporting learning. For example:

  • Chicago’s Digital Youth Network fosters supportive learning ecosystems that help youth cultivate learning as a lifestyle, with the goal creating an equal platform for all to be digitally literate.
  • Cities of Learning is a national effort to surface and connect cities’ many resources to help youth of all backgrounds develop curiosity, resilience, and 21st century skills.
  • The STEM Ecosystems Initiative is supporting communities across the country in cultivating STEM learning ecosystems and in connecting with others in the network to build a national community of practice.
  • Six Next-Gen Learning Hubs are building off cities’ assets and bringing together partners to create innovative student-centered education ecosystems.

As Andrea Saveri, Jason Swanson, and I explored in “Cultivating Interconnections for Vibrant and Equitable Learning Ecosystems,” ecosystem participants can address learners’ needs in the context of their particular geographies and future trends by cultivating webs of services and learning experiences comprised of many kinds of organizations and resources. Some ecosystem participants will do well to act as concentrators that provide core infrastructure, aggregation, and brokering services at scale.  Others should as creative niche specialists, or fragmenters, that target user needs and customize services. Still others should act as catalysts that mobilize cross-boundary initiatives, bridge ecosystem gaps, and forge shared goals.

No organization will be good at filling all three of these roles. But if many organizations work together, they can build effective value webs that create new possibilities for meeting learners’ needs and responding to local realities.

Ecosystem approaches such as those listed above begin to illustrate the power of fostering ecosystem interconnections as a core strategy for the future. Scaling impact through the diversity of relationships and connections in a single community rather than by replicating a few strategies and programs across geographies promises to help communities develop resilience, put learners at the center, and work to achieve equity for all young people.

As Jason and I have begun sharing these ideas with education stakeholders through conference sessions and other engagements, we’ve been excited to see how prototyping possible ways of combining diverse roles and services can open up conversations about what is possible for learners and learning. There’s a lot to consider as we move away from one-size-fits-no one to learner-centered ecosystems. But stepping back from today’s approaches to consider new possibilities for the future can help surface possibilities, tensions, and strategic opportunities.

You can explore the potential of ecosystem interconnections for your own community through the “Strengthening Learning Ecosystem Interconnections” activity at the end of our paper.