Learning Mashup

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Multi-Ethnic Group of People Working TogetherDesign thinking. Entrepreneurship. Project learning. Problem-based learning. Hands-on learning. STEM. Let’s take elements of each and create a new experience. I guarantee you it’ll include risk-taking and failure. If it doesn’t, we’re not doing it right.

I’m been an educator most of my life. I was a teacher and school administrator for nearly two decades. This year, I’m part of an education technology startup. We recognized a problem, and we wanted to solve it, and we wanted to solve it in a way that scales.

As a school leader, I talked a lot about students taking risks, learning to fail, solving real-world problems, engaging in hands-on learning.  In reality, I knew I was kidding myself. I believed in everything I was saying, but I didn’t feel like I’d done much to create this type of learning environment.

Sure. I’d done some of it. I’d started two adult learning institutes.  I saw a problem and I wanted to address it. Then I got curious.

I went to business school at MIT and earned an MBA.  Wham!  Reality really set in. My colleagues were people who had spent time learning and a lot more time doing. They approached things differently and it was energizing.

Now I’m part of a startup and every week is a roller coaster ride filled with failure and the requirement that we learn and adapt. If we don’t, we go out of business. It’s that simple.

It’s got me thinking about all the terms we use in education to describe the life I’m living now, all the terms I listed at the beginning of this piece. To accomplish what’s at the heart of each of these approaches, I’d argue that there needs to be lots of doing, lots of failing, lots of learning, and lots of collaborating, especially with people who think and work differently than you do.

It’s very humbling. It can be overwhelming. It can be scary. It can be exhilarating. It can be devastating. It’s often a battle with your own ego and limitations, and it’s ALWAYS a learning experience. It teaches you resilience like few other things can.

I’d argue that school learning right now doesn’t even come close to this experience – in person, online, blended, etc. – and I think that’s a shame.

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