Empower Learner Voice and Watch What Happens Next

Learner Voices   28 July 2017
By Michael Hurlbutt


Now that my voice has been unleashed, I use it as much as I can.

Michael Hurlbutt
Learner, MC2

It’s so empowering to be able to use my voice and have it be heard. Within the dominating school-centered education paradigm, the norm is for children’s voices to be silent when discussing how the system should work.

After being in traditional school my whole life, I know learners are often left feeling like they don’t deserve to have a voice. As young learners, we don’t feel like people. We don’t have a right to show emotion or receive a personalized education. In the traditional system, learning is being done to us, instead of with us.

Now that my voice has been unleashed, I use it as much as I can.

I have been invited to learner-centered conferences in Washington, DC and Chicago to help shift this school-centered paradigm. The first conference, SparkHouse, was focused on the learners. I heard from many different perspectives, passions, and backgrounds. Some of the stories I heard really showed me that change is possible anywhere and that it’s up to learners to step up and make it happen.

The second conference, Learning Lab Training, brought everyone together—learners, educators, and other adults in education. It was pretty cool to be in a room full of adults, learning together. I learned so much from listening to more experienced learner perspectives. Most importantly, I learned how to explain and discuss learner-centered education with others in ways that are persuasive and empathetic. It also taught me why change is such a hard thing to pursue.


With everyone feeling this same need for change, I truly felt part of something I wanted to share with others.

Michael Hurlbutt
Learner, MC2

As I listened, I heard the same passion and frustration I’ve felt through my own experience. With everyone feeling this same need for change, I truly felt part of something I wanted to share with others. Along with the teachers, school board members, and principals, I was able to share my voice and my passion for shifting the paradigm. By being able to share my vision and experience with everyone else, they got to hear my story of moving from a traditional school to a learner-centered one. Having experienced both environments, the biggest difference has been the constant encouragement given to young learners to use their voice in learner-centered environments. In these environments, we are recognized as the future.

After joining in on these conferences, my vision of education has evolved. I’m gaining a better understanding of what learner-centered is and what it isn’t. Before enrolling at MC2 and participating in their learner-centered system, I looked at school and learning as something I had to do. Now, I think of it as something that is fun and can be done anywhere and with anyone. I’m actually passionate about it.

Before I participated at Education Reimagined’s gatherings, I didn’t see myself as an advocate for education. Since last November’s SparkHouse, however, my advocacy has become one of my biggest passions. Collaborating with so many learners (young and older) from different cultures and backgrounds from around the country, I now realize MC2 is not the only one with these ideas and visions about the need to shift paradigms.


Everything is always changing, so shouldn’t we adapt how we think about education?

Michael Hurlbutt
Learner, MC2

I want to thank Education Reimagined for bringing all of us together and helping us further our knowledge in educating others about learner-centered education. After being in traditional schools my whole life and being told “it was me” or “I’m not trying,” I realized it wasn’t about me or the teacher. It was the system. It was the system not allowing me to have voice in my education or have my passions drive my learning. My time at SparkHouse was when I realized I wasn’t the only one struggling.

More and more learners are giving up every day because their learning isn’t theirs. When I simply ask people how they would view learning if they could learn about their passions, I see their belief in what’s possible in education and themselves change almost immediately. So I invite you—imagine if we could all learn about our passions and apply them to real-world contexts every day. What could learners create?

Most people know the traditional system isn’t working, but they’re afraid to make changes. They don’t know what the results look like on the other side. The thing we need to realize is we, as human beings, change all the time. Everything is always changing, so shouldn’t we adapt how we think about education? After being part of a traditional and a learner-centered system, I can confidently say the traditional system wasn’t preparing me for life and was possibly setting me up for failure. I didn’t have and wouldn’t have gained any of the knowledge and life skills I now know I need to survive and thrive.

Learning in a learner-centered environment has taught me so much about my strengths and weaknesses as a learner. I can continue sitting here and explaining how both paradigms made me feel and how I’ve been a failure in one and an exemplary learner in another, but to put it simply, having the knowledge and skills to explore my passions is what I gain from learner-centered education and what I would never have received in a traditional system. If we give ANY learner voice in their learning, they WILL own it and strive for success just as I have done and will continue to do.

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