The 5 Elements: A North Star for Learner-Centered Education

From the Vision   11 December 2015

From the Vision

To ensure development in knowledge, skills, and dispositions for all learners, we envision learning experiences characterized by the following five interrelated elements. Taken together, they form our new design for learning:

These five elements are not meant to serve as a blueprint for a rigid model to be implemented everywhere. Instead, they serve as a “North Star” to guide innovation. They do not create a single roadmap that can be followed the same way in every learning community. Realizing new designs will be an iterative process; much experimentation will be necessary to discover ways that these five elements can work together and reinforce one another to create excellent learning experiences for all children, regardless of their circumstances.

Learning that is characterized by LEARNER AGENCY recognizes learners as active participants in their own learning and engages them in the design of their experiences and the realization of their learning outcomes in ways appropriate for their developmental level. As such, learners have choice and voice in their educational experiences as they progress through competencies. Harnessing his or her own intrinsic motivation to learn, each learner strives to ultimately take full ownership of his or her own learning.

SOCIALLY EMBEDDED learning is rooted in meaningful relationships with family, peers, qualified adults, and community members and is grounded in community and social interaction. It values face-to-face contact, as well as opportunities to connect virtually, and recognizes the significance of establishing continuity in children’s lives through the development of stable relationships. Independent exploration and practice; collaborative group work; structured, intentional instruction; and structured and cooperative play, among other experiences, are integrated to develop learners’ competencies. Both peers and adults are recognized as integral partners in learning, and learners are encouraged to interact with those developing at different competency rates, from different backgrounds, and with different interests. Furthermore, socially embedded learning catalyzes and structures partnerships with families, community-based employers, civic organizations, and other entities that can foster learning.

PERSONALIZED, RELEVANT, AND CONTEXTUALIZED learning is an approach that uses such factors as the learner’s own passions, strengths, needs, family, culture, and community as fuel for the development of knowledge, skills, and dispositions. Learning experiences are leveraged to bridge gaps and meet learning challenges; designed to expand interests, opportunities, and perspectives; and responsive to learners’ passions. At the same time, they are rooted in real-world contexts and empower the learner to demonstrate his or her learning in a variety of authentic ways and settings. Personalized, relevant, and contextualized learning also acknowledges that different learners face different challenges to learning, whether in health, safety, economic situation, emotional wellbeing, social interactions, or competency development. Those challenges are both identified and addressed so that the learner is adequately supported, thus ensuring that his or her current life situation does not constrain the breadth or depth of learning.

OPEN-WALLED learning acknowledges that learning happens at many times and in many places and intentionally leverages its expansive nature in the learner’s development of competencies. It creates and takes full advantage of opportunities in a variety of communities, settings, times, and formats. All learning experiences, whether highly structured or exploratory and experiential, are valued, encouraged, and integrated into the learner’s journey. These experiences may be in-person, virtual, or blended. Play, recreation, technology-enabled experiences, community-based work, and service opportunities, for instance, are all recognized as legitimate vehicles for learning. While opening learning to a myriad of settings, open-walled learning also provides learners with a physical space in which to socialize, collaborate, and learn with peers and adults. Where a particular community possesses relatively few educational resources, they are supplemented to provide learners with authentic, rich, and diverse learning opportunities.

COMPETENCY-BASED learning is an alternative to age- or grade-based learning. In competency-based learning, each learner works toward competency and strives for mastery in defined domains of knowledge, skills, and dispositions. Learners’ trajectories toward mastery are guided and managed, rather than placing the emphasis on their achievement of specific benchmarks in a fixed amount of time. Competency-based learning recognizes that all learners are unique and that different learners progress at different paces. It allows the system structure to support variation of learning speeds in accordance with each learner’s specific challenges and needs. Assessments, both formative and summative, are utilized on a continuous basis to inform the learning and instructional strategy for each learner. Additional resources are provided to learners who need help to accelerate the pace of competency development.

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