Issue 07

February 11, 2016

How do you help learner-centered education scale?

Todd Rose
The End of Average

The hardest part of learning something new is not embracing new ideas, but letting go of old ones.

Dear Friends,

Recently, we’ve been reminded of the importance of sharing the theory of change that we and pioneers have embraced or are intuitively adopting. There is growing excitement about learner-centered environments around the country—like Lindsay USD, Iowa BIG, Big Thought, Summit PS, and Big Picture Learning. And, with the new ESSA, states are beginning to grapple with how to enable districts to transform. So, people are wondering: How do you help learner-centered education scale?

A pioneer would say that we can’t think of scale in the same way that we have in the past. It can’t be about creating a single model and inserting it into new places. It must be about enabling people to transform their own communities.

Almost without exception, pioneers already on this journey started by engaging their communities in inquiries about the outcomes they wanted for kids, the world their kids are entering, and whether our current education system is designed to deliver what kids need now and in the future. As they authentically grapple with these questions, they almost inevitably arrive at the same conclusion: the current system’s design and the needs of today’s children are mismatched. It is time for something new—the transformation of the education system to one with the learner at the center.

These pioneers then start on a journey to bring this transformation to life. Engaging the diverse stakeholders—educators, parents, administrators, boards of education, community resources, and the learners themselves—they begin creating and iterating learning environments that fit their particular learners’ needs and community’s circumstances.

While this process doesn’t answer the question of how to enable learner-centered pioneers directly, the choice to start their journey with the community as a whole exemplifies a few beliefs about the theory of change:

  • Transformation cannot be done to or for people; it must be done by and with people.
  • Complex systems change demands partnership and collaboration across diverse stakeholders over time.
  • Inventing out of our traditional system toward a new one requires high levels of trust among all of the stakeholders involved.

Even though the solution is locally developed, you don’t have to make the journey alone. Luckily, there are already organizations and people out there who have internalized the guiding principles above and are ready to help, support, and champion those doing the work. To name a few—Big Picture Learning, Summit Basecamp, KnowledgeWorks, The Learning Accelerator, Innovation Lab Network, Transcend, 2Revolutions, and Student Experience Lab.

We are excited to play our part!

Kelly Young


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New resources and news on The Big Idea!


We recently announced a new R&D acceleration initiative to connect and support local communities ready to bring public, equitable, learner-centered ecosystems to life.