Monday, August 15, 2011

3 Radical Ideas to Transform Learning. Surprise: They Don’t Involve School

Earlier this year, I shared my disappointment with Fast Company’s compilation of "13 Radical Ideas for Spending $100 Million to Overhaul Schools"  The problem was that these ideas really just weren’t all that radical.   Even Will Richardson, who was featured in the article, commented on my blog that he agreed (see comment here). Richardson did feature a radical idea in his own blog a few years back in his post, One Town’s Reform…Close the Schools.  The article explains how a UK community shut down its 11 schools replacing them with dynamic learning centers that looked very different than traditional compulsory schools. According to their site, they are still going strong.  

The learning center idea has certainly taken off as more and more people are realizing that the compulsory, oppressive, disconnected, test-driven schools that exist today are not the best option when it comes to preparing children for success in the world. 

I recently came across three alternative views of what 21st century learning environments might look like.  One, written several years ago, outlines what community learning might look like if suddenly schools no longer existed. The next, written earlier this year, outlines a learning environment that resembles a mall-like shopping center. The third provides 12 design principals that give new meaning to the idea of "Re" "Forming" education.    

1) When the School Doors Close:  A Midsummer Night’s Dream by Linda Dobson

In her timeless article, When the School Doors Close:  A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Linda Dobson outlines the transformation that would occur if schools ceased to exist and instead we engaged in community-centered learning.  Rather than compulsory, age-based facilities, with community learning people choose to attend and learn about topics of deep personal passion and interest.  There would be many options available to individuals of any age.  The community takes ownership and responsibility of the learning and well-being of others.  

Dobson outlines a vision that is worth reading about which you can do here

2) My Dream Place by Mystified Mom
Mystified Mom shares her vision of what the ideal learning environment would look like in her post, “My Dream Place.” In it she shares a fantastic overview of a community learning center which would look similar to a shopping mall where the stores become learning centers with facilitators rather than shop keepers.  Each store could be devoted to a particular subject. For example, there could be a store filled with everything about dinosaurs. The room would be painted to look like a dinosaur habitat and facts about dinosaurs could be posted on the walls. There could be dinosaur fossils and pictures, sandboxes where kids could dig up mock dinosaur bones, computers with dinosaur games on them, and anything else that you could imagine involving dinosaurs. 

The center would house the community library and other community service centers. Like libraries, it would serve all people from the cradle to the grave and would not be compulsory. It would be a place that was so cool and interesting that people would clamor to spend their days there. There would be no need to make it compulsory because it would be a warm, welcoming, and fun place to be. It would be open year round and have extended hours to accommodate the parents that work late or the children that don't want to leave. Parents could attend with their children whenever they want. There would be no age segregation. Instead, people could move about the center based on their interest and skill level rather than age. 

You can read the entire piece here

3) The Classroom Is Obsolete: It's Time for Something New by By Prakash Nair        
In his Education Week article Prakash Nair identifies the most visible symbol of a failed education system:  the classroom which he explains has been obsolete for several decades. He says that classroom-based schools could permanently sink our chances of rebuilding our economy and restoring our shrinking middle class. He points out that the classroom is a relic, left over from the Industrial Revolution, which required a large workforce with very basic skills. He blames classroom-based education for the inability to deliver the creative and agile workforce that the 21st century demands.  

He identifies the problem being that because each student “constructs” knowledge based on his or her own past experiences, a personalized education model to maximize individual student achievement is needed. He explains classrooms, are based on the erroneous assumption that efficient delivery of content is the same as effective learning. 

He shares the following 12 education design principles for learning facilities: (1) personalized; (2) safe and secure; (3) inquiry-based; (4) student-directed; (5) collaborative; (6) interdisciplinary; (7) rigorous and hands-on; (8) embodying a culture of excellence and high expectations; (9) environmentally conscious; (10) offering strong connections to the local community and business; (11) globally networked; and (12) setting the stage for lifelong learning. 

You can read the whole article here and see what some of these learning facilities (some of which are featured in this post) look like here. They are worth a look because they are simply amazing and they exist around the world today.


  1. Great post! I love that you included dreams and ideal AND some real-life innovative learning centers!

  2. Thank you for this... while the end result of our school renovation project will, indeed, be a school building, I have been inspired by hearing ideas from other educators and the creative visions of our architects. I think we could really make some fantastic spaces come to life!

  3. Simply beautiful!! But where does the continued funding come from and how big are the class sizes?

  4. I love the mall idea. That would be a great way to re-use the shopping malls that are closing all over the place. How would the funding and security work? Would parents have to pay, or would the community support it with the money currently spent on public schools? For parents who dropped their kids off there while they worked, how would there be an attendance/supervision system to make sure their (little) kids were safe?