'It's time for the little boats': Learning from the front line

"This is our Dunkirk moment. Now is the time for the little boats to come out." -- David Price, futurist & author

Over the past few years, there has been increasing debate about what the future of learning will look like but the time for debate and "re-imagining" is over. It's now time to act. The Covid-19 pandemic has propelled us forward and accelerated the need for change dramatically. Many of the concepts that have been tolerated as part of the "status quo" of traditional education -- exams, testing, homework, uniforms (and the list goes on) -- have now been called into question or, at the very least, have been put 'on hold' during a temporary lock-down and school closure situation. This does beg the question, do we need them at all? Throughout the world, educators are striving to only retain the essential during confinement periods, retain only those things that can add value to students' learning. Meaningful connection and exchange of ideas, critical thinking, collaborative project-based initiatives or time for solo reflection and creativity, and above all, positive and trusting relationships between learners, educators and families have never been more important.

In our second set of interviews on the topic of online learning, as part of our [RE]LEARN series, Dr. Stephen Harris, co-founder and Chief Learning Officer at Learnlife interviews three thought leaders and innovators who are driving much-needed change and reflection on the way we learn.

As Devin Carberry, Director of Learning Programmes at Learnlife, explains, although the learning guide team managed to transition to a remote learning experience in just 24 hours, the pre-work and team development to enable such a task is almost invisible, but without this, such a feat would never have been possible. "Woven into our DNA as a team is being agile, problem finding and problem solving, moving quickly to address any rising need or challenge," says Carberry. He goes on to explain that in addition to agility and problem solving, the need for on-going iteration is key to ensure the experience is learner-centric at all times. "It has been a process of constant evolution and as a result our team has developed tight collaboration skills and resilience." The learning team at Learnlife have been reviewing the experience on a weekly basis making iterations and tweaks throughout based on learner and family feedback as well as challenges they have identified themselves. One of the most successful changes has been the implementation of "Wellness Wednesdays" which is focused on providing short 1 on 1 check-ins to all learners, rather than having any larger group calls, and 'safeguards' afternoons for enabling families and children to spend time together doing whatever brings them joy, peace and well-being as a family.

Alfredo Hernando, psychologist and author on education, echoes this in calling for a holistic approach to learning. He argues that the big challenge we will face in education moving forwards is how technology, space and methodology will interact. If we only look at one of these components, Hernando argues that we would be missing critical opportunities. We can no longer think of education in terms of methodologies and pedagogy alone, it has to be a holistic approach to ensure the learning experience is rich, engaging and enhances learners' wellbeing and ability to thrive. Hernando, who also founded the Escola21 initiative, an alliance of forward-thinking schools in Catalunya, says: "We cannot think about either only online or completely offline work. We need to think about the students' needs and how best to reach and engage them." Their world and future will require an ability to mix between digital and analog as they will be more and more intertwined, he argues.

David Price, thought leader, futurist and author on education innovation, elevates the conversation about online learning to call for consideration of what we have learned over the past few weeks as an opportunity to think about how we involve and support parents. "Let's work with the circadian rhythm of the family. There are remarkable examples around us of learners helping their community and contributing creative solutions during this pandemic." Price argues that this is a great opportunity for purposeful learning and a chance to move from a knowledge-rich focus on curriculum, to a focus on learner agency and purposeful project-based initiatives that learners can do in the home or with peers remotely. "I would love to see kids talking to their kids and having honest conversations about what this situation means for the economy and globalisation, and how collectively we can innovate. This is our Dunkirk moment - the time for the little boats - when we need the wider community to play their part. This is the time for an explosion of ingenuity" says Price, citing examples such as Folded, or WePlay an app set up by an 8 year old.

The notion of a learning ecosystem where the school is part of a much bigger network that’s responsible for the development of each child is very clear. This is even more apparent in the current context. "We can’t go back to the schools that are locked behind big fences anymore. We can't be so afraid of the world. I'd love to see schools as revivers of community when this is all over," says Price.

You can see the full video interviews below, as well as a summary of the key take-aways.

Devin Carberry, Director of Learning Programmes, Learnlife

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David Price, futurist and education innovator

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Alfredo Hernando, author and founder of Escola21

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