Infrastructure to Enable Learner-Centered Ecosystems
Note from Education Reimagined 30 June 2022
By Kelly Young
When the causes people care about are more important than the system, the system inevitably must change.
Two weeks ago, Education Reimagined Senior Advisor Karen Pittman shared the post, Systems and Structures: What Needs Must Be Addressed for a Learner-Centered Future. Karen dove into learner-centered ecosystems, what makes them distinct from past efforts, and what makes the effort to bring them to life more important than ever.
She also called attention to what is front and center for us at Education Reimagined — a focus on the infrastructure needed to enable and scale ecosystems. She writes:
“Because the challenge of bridging from what exists today (a lack of public infrastructure that supports learner-centered ecosystems and no expectation of one) to the vision in The Big Idea (an established public infrastructure enabling dynamic learner-centered ecosystems and demand for them), is one of scale.”
While there is still much to be discovered about what it will take to invent, we know demand and readiness for what it would make possible are out there.
From our learner-centered practitioners who have been inventing in and around the current system for years, they are ready for a space with the freedom and funding to enable them to take their vision even beyond what they’ve created to date. We also know families are seeking something different for their kids. But, culling together the kind of learning journey an ecosystem would enable cannot be a responsibility placed on families.
Again, it all comes back to the infrastructure — inventing the physical, social, and digital infrastructure that would enable thriving, dynamic, and accessible public ecosystems of learning.
Luckily, there are pieces of this infrastructure already out there, whether they are being deployed in a single learner-centered environment, a micro-school, or in an out-of-school-time program. We are not starting from scratch.
From our learner-centered practitioners who have been inventing in and around the current system for years, they are ready for a space with the freedom and funding to enable them to take their vision even beyond what they’ve created to date.
Founder & President of Education Reimagined
In Karen’s piece, she spoke of community-based learning networks, like the Y or Iowa Big, and the infrastructure they’ve built to illuminate the learning opportunities available for youth in the community, or credential learning no matter where it happens, or enable young people to design coherent learning pathways based on their interests and aspirations.
Today, I want to illuminate a few other places we might look to for inspiration and guidance about what the components of an ecosystemic infrastructure could look like.
Funding mechanisms. Utilizing a portion of the state’s per-pupil funding allocated to school districts, the My Tech High program provides students and parents access to high-quality personalized education resources, certified teachers, tutors, and mentors at no cost to the family. Depending on how the students learn best, they can choose a mix of book-based, online, or community-based classes. Matt Bowman, Founder and CEO of My Tech High, once shared with me, “I’m constantly reminded that innovators and entrepreneurs need to keep working hard every day to demonstrate how their new ideas can actually become more “reasonable and prudent” than the legacy systems and models of the past. It takes a lot of work (especially in public education), but it’s definitely worth it for the children, youth, and families we serve!”
Navigation. ReSchool Colorado, led by Amy Anderson, has piloted providing “learner advocates” to families to support them in designing engaging learning pathways. Their Learner Advocate Network (LAN) guides learners and their working parents in forging a purposeful and relevant learning path by supporting them in making decisions about learning that happens both in and outside school.
Credentialing. VLACS in New Hampshire is credentialing learning no matter where it happens, enabling learning that happens outside of the school of record to count for learners. Because of competency-based legislation in New Hampshire, VLACS is able to credential learning that happens in conventional and non-conventional settings — from learning that happens in an asynchronous class to a robotics competition.
Transportation. A for Arizona is intended to provide grant money “to seed community-driven solutions and test ideas quickly to maximize opportunities and impact for students now.” One solution in the state has been to modernize the transportation system, allowing for more access to programs for all Arizona youth. They are providing grants to people who are solving the problem of kids getting to out-of-school-time options, learning supports, and appropriate learning environments, using creative means.
These are just a handful of the many examples out there of organizations and people creating alternative and out-of-the-box approaches to some of the most significant infrastructural challenges that an ecosystem will face, doing so in ways that center the learner and enable a unique, empowering learning journey for each child. We could point to others — how Big Picture Learning’s ImBlaze is supporting meaningful internships for any learner; how CommunityShare is making the expertise within a community accessible to young people; or how Village is connecting every child to out-of-school opportunities through an online dashboard.
From governance structures and ensuring a child’s safety to creating equitable access across communities to public messaging, there is a lot to be explored and invented. However, these systems and tools are crucial if we are to demonstrate what a learner-centered ecosystem can look like in real life and make possible for real kids, families, and communities. Some of the pieces of this future already exist, while others are yet to be tackled.
But, that is the work that Karen pointed us to and that Education Reimagined is taking on — catalyzing the invention of “an established public infrastructure enabling dynamic learner-centered ecosystems and demand for them.”
We will continue to elevate examples like the ones above, learn from them, make new connections between inventors, and partner with community leaders to discover what this can look like in action. We hope you will join us in this work of discovery and exploration. One way to engage is to share with us:
- What kinds of infrastructure will be required to support families and communities to embrace a fully thriving learner-centered ecosystem?
- What do you see it will really take?
- And, where do you see it already happening?
We know it will take us all, working together to invent the infrastructure to enable learner-centered ecosystems where all learners can thrive.
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