Defining The Learning Ecosystem

Phase 1: Working on two fronts - asking 16 questions to 9 students and defining initial concept (by analogy).

Photo of Mark Dyson

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This process starts with an idea - what if we could exert so much control over our own learning that we can influence the process of transition by being connected to it? Only the right ideas can create our future: Ideas are often the first thing we need even before we start to analyze what is that is getting in the way of you achieving our goals. Ideas can from anywhere. Any idea is as valid as the next until weighed and validated.

So here’s the idea: The power of learning can be harnessed collectively if we see ourselves as part of an ecosystem.

This is written in response to an awareness that we need powerful concepts to pull in the interest and engagement of others. The concept being offered in somewhat fuzzy form is the Learning Ecosystem. The concept is connected to an aim - being to develop powerful learning tools that can transform the way learners think about themselves when they realize they are all connected. 

I do this so not only can we take control, but also learn about the pitfalls and be ready to face the storms and conditions that occasionally influence the world around us, which in turn influence us and not least how we become aware of the power to educate ourselves. The ecosystem is an interesting analogy since we will at some point experience the stormy weather in our lives which can no longer be separated into personal, educational or working - it’s all inter-connected.

16 questions to 9 students

This post is the beginning of a process of developing Learning tools that respond to both the individual and the global learning context. We start this process by introducing a concept - The Learning Ecosystem - and couple this to a questionnaire that has been conducted by asking 9 students aged 16, 16 questions each. The questions and the responses are added here before the reader is presented with the ideas and inspiration behind the Ecosystem analogy.

We want to know how we can tackle the whole 'Learning Ecosystem' agenda. While we have our own insights, these can be subjective and clouded by own experience that may fail to fulfill latent needs, needs that cannot be expressed since they cannot be known. So to get to grips with this we deliberately made a mix of easy to respond to and more challenging questions we can use to identify needs, desires, angles to follow up, something that is real to get the ball rolling. 

We want to know if they think alike, or if each has a unique outlook on the world. Most important of all, we need to get a more detailed idea of what is going on inside their heads so we can start to approach the realities of the learning ecosystem: What are their insights? What angles can they bring to bear in developing our (the designers) understandings responding to their (the users) learning situations?

So we came up with a hit-list of 16 questions we felt were manageable enough for secondary school students but also wide enough to access their thinking.

See the attached pdf file!


DISCUSSION: Learning Lessons

The first learning lesson is to not to see ourselves as being remote from the world. That may seem like stating the obvious but really, it isn’t. We need to take part in the process of transition. We need to be active in knowing what is on the horizon as much as what is around us. If we don’t take part in that process of transition, we take a large risk by isolating ourselves. So how can we understand this? What can we look at that can provide some insight and get to grips with some big ideas? We need something familiar we know, something we can work with.

Flooded by chiaralily on Flickr

imagine The Learning city

Let’s take the analogy of the city in the ecosystem and see how that pans out. So allow me to try flesh out the idea a little:

We can use the city as a living breathing entity to represent the community of learners - the class, the school or the collage, scale is not really important. The city represents us as a community. We are connected to it as a society of people  - they are our colleagues and friends we share our environment with.

We can view the ‘learning city’ from different angles. It nurtures us. But it is also connected to greater forces. Our learning city in the ecosystem is not alone. And neither are we. I make this point since if we do not prepare for change - in all its guises we put ourselves at risk. Like bad weather, change can come when it is least expected. And, like the city that prepares for storms, for flooding, we need to manage how we can be affected by the system we are a part of too. 

We can only do that by taking control. We are good at seeing the world in terms of risks and what we need to do and build to avoid them - but are we good at doing that for ourselves and turn this around to see possibility instead? Here’s the difference - by being proactive in forming opportunity - we build resilience to the adverse affects of change. If we influence others, we can exert influence.

We cannot afford to see ourselves in isolation

We can’t afford to stand still. Not if we want job security, happiness or to do what we enjoy doing. We are not passive people on the other end of the receiving end - we can feed the system as well - for the better. Education has become lifelong learning. Students and workers must educate themselves continually. So our personal, learning and working lives and how they related to the world around us – and the ebbs and flows of recessions and periods of growth are part of the system of change - are all connected even if we can’t see it today. 

Just as a city can’t see what weather is coming in a month, or a year. What impact it will have – often leaving permanent traces – cannot be known. But it has to be planned for. We have never been more inter-related with our world than we are today. Our parents my have been able to separate them. Our grandparents certainly did. We can’t do that any more. So we can see ourselves as part of an ecosystem. Unlike the global warming and the side effects and detrimental effects on well-being, we can do something about our own weather system and do something about the changes. 

The message here is, just as we need to plan and adapt to weather even global warming, we also need to monitor what is going on around us and see where we can create a better climate - by becoming an active part of the ecosystem we are a part of.

Adaptation by self-awareness

We need to sense what we cannot see – and adapt ourselves to the world in transition. We need to stay on top. When the wind blows, we have to stand on our own two feet. We need to feel secure that what we have to say has value, that what we do makes a difference, both to us and those we engage in. 

Therefore, the world of transition can be reduced to the simple level of being aware of how we as individuals interact with the changing world around us. It is knowing that awareness of ourselves is a journey that never ends. I see this as a search for personal truth that is a dialogue with the people and the world around us. This search starts at school and once started, never ends.

Being self-ware also means seeing potential dangers - what can happen if we dont’t tap into the ecosystem. What was a career path can become a fight to survive. What was once a skill can become redundant. These are the adverse sides of being part of a system we do not take part in. These are not just words, they represent a reality that determines our future. So just as in global warming, when the rules that were no longer really apply any more, we are part of a ‘paradigm change’ and that change effects all of us. 

By not taking part in transition and creating opportunity, we risk not being part of it all.

So what are the upsides? What can we do so we prevent that from happening to us?

Storm Over The Bay by Guillaume on Flickr

WHAT CAN WE DO ABOUT own learning?

The change is also in knowing the control we exert over our own learning process is viable and adaptable. We can learn that our world is far from an ideal world but that should not deflect us from personal paths. Even those like myself, who have dedicated our lives to making, researching, studying and developing knowledge are vulnerable. No one is holy and nobody can afford to rest on laurels, because yes, the world is a different place than it once was and has embarked on a process of transition that knows no end – so the only thing that is certain at all is transition itself.

What was negative can become positive, by coming up with the right ideas. By acting on something, we can change the impact we have on our environment. For a city or a district that means also improving the quality of the environment. The thing is, we are in control and what may seem like a problem can become an opportunity. The same applies for us and how we live our future. The difference is: We are the ones responsible for making the right decisions.

We are our own learning city planners

Summer Storm over Lake Léman by Vitalis Hirschmann on Flickr

New times, changing times requires an understanding of who we are, how we think and how we can take a step back and see how we interact with others. To manage our future, we need to be aware how taking responsibilIty for our own learning can ride the tides of change and the storms that will come when we least expect them to. This is common  to all people engaging with others, whether they be students, artisans, professionals or pensioners  - it follows us but we need to open our eyes, hearts and minds to see it for what it truly is.

It is important we are ourselves, that we feel secure in being ourselves, that we question ourselves but also feel happy to share what we hold to be true. WE CAN DO THAT BY UNDERSTANDING how we are part of the greater perspective - that we are part of a world in transition and that creativity and empowerment is the key to progress. We need to adopt a different mindset that means thinking less of ourselves and more of sharing what we value. 

So my message is this: 

Share with open mind. Take control of your learning. Make it a mission to feel good about interacting with the world around you. When you get to where you want to be going, then help others on their journey’s too. We need to understand that we are not alone, that we are part of a Learning Ecosystem. Neither are we alone in the planning or the journey that lays before us. We can help develop that Ecosystem and connect our minds in common understandings.

Tools for Learning - the local global context

To take control of learning we need learning tools need to respond to the context of the individual in the world - call it a local-global contextual differentiation. And like the forces affecting weather, do the forces within the context of learning need to be integrated but differentiable - learning, doing and thinking requires integrating and aligning to both the local – and global context.

London Dawn by Anne on Flickr

[Optional] Synthesize a little! In one sentence, describe what you learned from your empathy exercises or analogous research. (Ex: Good advisors make a difference.)

Meaning is not what we make it but what can be made - there is always more than one way, all we have to do is embrace what lays before us.

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16 Questions to 9 Students on Learning 16 questions were formulated to get the bigger picture of how students see themselves, their peers, environment and future for learning. These responses will be used to form insights in the ideation phase for developing an Architecture in an action-reflection learning continuum.


Join the conversation:

Photo of Ela Ben-Ur

Thanks so much Mark! Yours and a number of other contributions here were inspiration for mine! 

I'd love to offer possible inspiration back on the topic of your survey, "learning ecosystem" and "adaptation by self-awareness."   I do a visual version of this survey with students (individuals and groups).  I ask some of the similar questions - how they "have breakthroughs", "learn", "design".  They share the moments in these experience on individual sticky notes, which I group in space on a  large piece of paper.  In my case, I know from all the work I've done over years that these will fall into the quadrants or center of the "compass" that's evolved (more in my post), and I use this as a way to help build that compass with them. This way, when we immediately start to use it, they'll be able to relate it to their own experiences.   We use that same type of "compass" space for them to capture their own observations, principles, ideas, and experiments - over a momentary challenge, or over time - as individuals, and as a collective.  For example, in my class, students continuously reflect on their experiences in the course for themselves, gaining observations, principles, ideas, and experiments for themselves, personally or professionally, going forward.  And, they contribute to a large ongoing class "compass" on the wall - which helps us be a "learning ecosystem" to collectively sense the observations, principles, ideas, and experiments that can make the class better, act on them, and repeat.    

Photo of Mark Dyson

You're welcome Ela and thank you - it's wonderful to see how posts can inspire! Similarly, I love what you have developed (and the whole branding excercise of the compass, it is an inspiration).
Visual communication is so important I feel it should be a subject for itself. For myself, I have 144 responses to use now in getting to grips with how tools can be developed that base themselves A. on the way students think, need, want to work and B. works actively with the ecosystem agenda.

I'll be looking at this in the next phase and see how the 'data' of the responses and guide the next phase defining the logic for a tool that can help students in seeing how they fit in to the greater context. 

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