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Moravec presents “A theory for invisible learning”

Education Futures founder, Dr. John Moravec, presented A theory for invisible learning during his keynote at the IDEC@EUDEC conference in Mikkeli, Finland on June 9, 2016.

His address to the conference was based on an update and rethink of the work he and Dr. Cristóbal Cobo published in their book Aprendizaje Invisible (“Invisible Learning”). Says Moravec:

A lot has changed since we wrote the book in 2011, and we need a formal theory for invisible learning more than ever. We seem to have gotten a bit hung up on technology. It’s not about computers. It’s about connecting with ourselves as humans, embracing the human experience, and trusting in each other to learn.

He further emphasizes:

Invisible learning is about placing trust in learners and shifting the flow of power from the top-down to the learner-out. By removing the rigidity of top-down control, and placing trust in learners, invisible learning can be made visible.

To date, hundreds of thousands of copies of the book Aprendizaje Invisible have been distributed. The text has become essential reading for educational change makers in the Spanish-speaking world. The book is available as a free download at aprendizajeinvisible.com.

Slides from John Moravec’s talk:

(Download as PDF)

More:

  1. The need for invisible learning
  2. A theory for invisible learning
  3. Approaches for enabling invisible learning

Approaches for enabling invisible learning

Note: This is the final article of a three-part series on a new theory for invisible learning.

The Theory for Invisible Learning is that we learn more, and do so invisibly, when we separate structures of control that restrict freedom and self-determination from learning experiences.

Invisible learning can emerge in many ways, and often manifests through bits and pieces here and there. The examples of approaches to invisible learning provided here are not exhaustive, and are meant to be illustrative only. Each of these approaches embrace participation, play, and exploration.

Schools for invisible learning

Democratic education schools are arguably the most visible examples of enabling self-determination. From the 2005 EUDEC guidance document, students in democratic schools have the right:

to make their own choices regarding learning and all other areas of everyday life. In particular, they may individually determine what to do, when, where, how and with whom, so long as their decisions do not infringe on the liberty of others to do the same.

Sudbury-type schools embrace this principle at their core, providing each student an equal voice and vote along side staff members and other stakeholders as to what they learn and how their schools are run. Students spend their time together without age or grade separation and they decide how to spend their time at the school. Central to the school’s operation are school meetings in which students and staff members make key decisions in a process focused on participatory democracy. In these schools, students are afforded tremendous freedom together with the personal and collective responsibility to make the best decisions possible.

These schools are part of a broader category of free schools which developed over the past century, with many approaches that interpret “free” schooling differently. Some operate as full democracies, and others as anarchist collectives. Of particular importance is the Summerhill School (UK), which permits each student to develop their own lesson plans within a structured timetable. Students have the freedom to pursue their own learning interests, based on offerings, and like the Sudbury model, they operate within a framework of participatory democracy with shared responsibilities.

There is very little research on democratic and free schools compared to mainstream education, but my hunch is they best serve students of at least middle-class or better-educated families, where students have greater flexibility and support to pursue their own interests. For students in economically disadvantaged families, we can look into liberation pedagogies such as critical pedagogy, eco schools, and praxis-type schools as pathways. While their foci are often connected with particular ideologies, they share core themes of socioeconomic liberation for students and the communities in which they live.

Finally, youth organizations and community participation opportunities that exist, often connected to formal schools, provide pathways toward invisible learning. Most often, we see this through scouting, clubs, and extension programs where students are not evaluated on a rigorous program, but instead earn badges, develop creative products, and create community-relevant outcomes that are based on their own interests.

Free play and exploration

Free play is a natural human activity where invisible learning flourishes. Through play, children discover their interests and aptitudes. Play inspires curiosity to test boundaries and learn social rules and norms, together with the development of many soft skills. Unfortunately, mainstream approaches to education ignore or underplay its importance in learning. Psychologist Peter Gray defines play as:

“first and foremost, self-chosen and self-directed. Players choose freely whether or not to play, make and change the rules as they go along, and are always free to quit. Second, play is intrinsically motivated; that is, it is done for its own sake, not for external rewards such as trophies, improved résumés, or praise from parents or other adults. Third, play is guided by mental rules (which provide structure to the activity), but the rules always leave room for creativity. Fourth, play is imaginative; that is, it is seen by the players as in some sense not real, separate from the serious world. And last, play is conducted in an alert, active, but relatively unstressed frame of mind” (from an interview in Journal of Play, Spring 2013).

Play is separate from sports and other organized activities in that it is explorative and satisfies an individual’s curiosity to try new ideas or simulate different possibilities in the world. Through play, a learner’s environment becomes his or her laboratory. This satisfaction of curiosity encourages the development of auto-didacticism, the practice of learning by one’s self.

Similar to free play is free exploration within our own communities and beyond to learn from others. What happens, for example, when children explore a culture beyond their own? What do they discover? How does it change them? What skills, competencies, or insights might they develop? Many of the answers to these questions are difficult to quantify or measure, but research suggests they can be related through the development of soft skills (i.e., intercultural competence, capabilities to handle ambiguity, empathy), which are critical outputs of invisible learning. This is learning beyond codifiable curricula, and places trust in kids that they can develop their own skills.

Building cultures of trust

To break free from the structures of control, we need to build cultures of trust. We need to trust children to learn without being told what to learn. Democracies are built on trust and shared responsibility. Free play and exploration are built on trusting others to help us learn from each other.

Teachers and school leaders have many opportunities to develop pathways toward invisible learning through participation, play, and exploration. These can be realized through their own development and praxis as well as through their work with students. But, the bottom line is enabling invisible learning is centered on trust, and trusting that children always learn — no matter what. As we wrote in Manifesto 15:

“The thrill of jumping off a cliff by deciding to do so yourself is a high you will never have if someone else pushes you off of it. In other words, the top-down, teacher-student model of learning does not maximize learning as it devours curiosity and eliminates intrinsic motivation. We need to embrace flat, horizontalized, and distributed approaches to learning, including peer learning and peer teaching, and empower students to realize the authentic practice of these modes. Educators must create space to allow students to determine if, and when, to jump off the cliff. Failing is a natural part of learning where we can always try again. In a flat learning environment, the teacher’s role is to help make sure the learner makes a well-balanced decision. Failing is okay, but the creation of failures is not.”


Posts in this series

  1. The need for invisible learning
  2. A theory for invisible learning
  3. Approaches for enabling invisible learning

Manifesto 15: Where do we go now?

manifesto15-eudec

In an webinar discussion, as part of the IDEC@Internet digital symposium, Drs. Kelly Killorn-Moravec and John Moravec discussed their findings from World Café conversations at the European Democratic Education Community (EUDEC) annual meeting in Warsaw in August, 2015. In these conversations, they invited the EUDEC community to provide feedback and insight on how to best actualize the principles enshrined in Manifesto 15.

The following notes present a summary of our conversations, together with actionable “next steps” that will be worked on by the Manifesto 15 community and shared further at the IDEC@EUDEC conference in June, 2016.

Question 1: What good examples or good practices already exist?

Participants in this discussion identified many practices that currently exist which fit within with framework of the Manifesto 15 principles. In regard to educators, these include growing the number of teachers who are questioning and seeking answers for change, sharing good ideas with one another, and living the principles of Manifesto 15.

Current good practices specific to learners include engaging students emotionally, socially, and mentally by creating a physical space conducive for learning and developing within it an environment of respect and transparency through providing opportunities for moving from child-centered toward child-emergent learning, allowing for personal choice in learning, connecting to students’ previous experiences and interests, and participating in projects involving collaboration and teamwork. Specific examples included free-schooling methods, “flipped” classroom instruction, students as teachers where the teacher is a partner or mentor, mixed-age groups, developing a school government system, providing opportunities for social entrepreneurships during which students learn through engaging with the community, student education retreats, student-developed startup weekends funded through foundation resources, Social Impact Awards, and the development of learning communities where participants are both teachers and learners simultaneously and on equal terms and are engaged through mixed disciplines and subjects, linked to society’s needs. Resources for development currently being used included Ted Talk videos and discussion, MOOCs, networking and collaborating through EDUFORUM, and systemic modeling of teaching and learning methodologies.

Question 2: Where do you want to go in the future?

Ideas for a future vision of education were also considered. These centered on the concepts of learning environment and relationship building. Within the topic of learning environment, participants suggested ideas such as changing the model to allow for more “knowmadic” experiences, removing compulsion from schooling, providing free opportunities for education and learning, classes with mixed-age groups, differentiated settings for learning, small class sizes to encourage student cooperation and collaboration, development of centers for projects on different topics, student choice in course offerings and learning opportunities, developing one’s own sense of learning, students leading teaching with teachers serving as advisors or mentors, development of soft skills, providing a space for failure and supporting students in their attempts to try and fail, developing a safe space for communication, and cultivating an environment of trust where intercultural respect exists and everyone is tolerant of one another.

Similarly, participants identified the importance and advantage of integrating “micro worlds” through developing relationships between students, parents, schools, and communities. Through this interconnected community, experiences can be shared and ideas may be communicated; global and transnational learning communities can be developed; and established resources (universities, communities, libraries, texts, etc.) may be connected and shared with interested learners. Finally, needs were identified to further develop teacher preparation coursework to support these ideas and the principles of Manifesto 15, while deliberately incorporating technology in non-invasive, “invisible” ways.

Question 3: What are our next steps to make this happen and what can we share with future Manifesto 15 groups?

As participants discussed what they envisioned for the future, several next steps emerged. First, developing opportunities to promote, explain, discuss, and further clarify the principles of Manifesto 15 through development of a glossary of terms, translation into new languages, synthesis of new ideas, and authentic redistribution through such means as social media presence, stickers, bumper stickers, magnets, notebooks, calendars, t-shirts, and short video clips highlighting each principle. Further, curating the principles of Manifesto 15 within communities and online could be done through a group of “Manifesto 15 Ambassadors” who would share and promote ideas, co-educate one another, and involve kids (we are already moving forward with this idea and will have an update soon).

Second, participants suggested identifying more good practices for application, such as deconstructing the myths in education and sharing the realities of schools; being examples of openness and trust; sharing the experiences of what has been done, what is wanted, and what is needed; using every opportunity to learn; and taking time for reflection and summary.

Third, the importance of creating communities through a shared trust was also discussed. This might be done by connecting with – and involving – schools, businesses, communities, and industries through shared communication, education, and decision-making; organizing and gathering people to produce impactful collective action; and engaging teachers within various contents (English, vocational, humanities, social sciences, etc.) in discussion around the principles of Manifesto 15.

Finally, it was suggested that we might involve political groups and influence decision-makers to create alternatives to what currently exists. Examples of this include taking steps to change teacher education programs, merging formal and informal education, and developing opportunities for entrepreneurial skills development, and creating a union to advocate for children’s rights.

Report from the European Democratic Education Community 2013 Conference

Peter Gray lecture at EUDEC

Note: This article was originally published in Other Education, vol. 2, no. 2 (2013), pp. 113-115, and is reprinted under Creative Commons license (BY-SA).

From July 28 to August 2, 2013, the European Democratic Education Community (EUDEC) held its fifth annual general meeting and conference. This year’s host was De Ruimte democratic school in Soest, The Netherlands, with an organizing committee comprised of staff members and alumni of Dutch democratic schools. 261 participants attended, ranging from students, staff members, parents, and interested community members. I attended as a member of the Sudbury Munich startup school’s scientific advisory board.

An affiliate of the International Democratic Education Network, EUDEC claims to represent about 58,000 people across 26 countries, including 42 schools, 19 start-up schools, and other member organizations and individuals. The bulk of the conference was organized into an open space, where all participants were invited to organize workshops, including ones that were organized spontaneously according to conversations and needs of participants during the conference. The annual general meeting was limited to voting members, but the final day of the conference was open to an additional 27 public visitors. At the last day, invited scholars, researchers, entrepreneurs, and school founders provided lectures and workshops.

Democratic education, as defined by EUDEC is comprised of two pillars:

  1. Self-determined learning: “Students in democratic schools and universities choose how to spend their school days, pursue their interests and prepare themselves for their lives and chosen careers” (EUDEC, n.d.).
  2. A community of equality and mutual respect: “Democratic schools have school meetings in which all members of the community have an equal vote, regardless of age or status. Students and teachers can sit together as equals to discuss and vote on school rules, curricula, projects, the hiring of staff and even budgetary matters” (EUDEC, n.d.).

EUDEC member schools have various models and approaches to how democratic education is practiced in their institutions, but many face similar obstacles in gaining the approval of government authorities across Europe, which nearly universally impose structural limitations that ban self-determined learning and disallow students to have an equal voice. The result is that many schools face constant legal battles to stay open, and, in some cases, even parents of the schools are charged as criminals for sending their children there (see esp. Thomas, 2013 for a typical case outline). For the schools that are under siege by authorities, the conference provides a valuable retreat to share experiences, learn from others, and expand networks.

The conference theme was “we create the future,” which from my perspective as an education futurist could not be more pertinent. This clashed with a sentiment shared by many of the schools, and particularly the Sudbury-type schools, that their approach to education is “radical.” I strongly disagree. In an era driven by accelerating technological change, globalization, and the emergence of a “knowmadic” society (Moravec, 2013a, 2013b), democratic schools are a necessary option for creating a near-future workforce that is creative, imaginative, and innovative in its application of personal-level knowledge.

As the democratic schools movement grows, the shift from their approach from being perceived as radical to a viable option presents new opportunities for research and academic discourse development. From my observations at conference workshops and in conversations with participants, there are tremendous variations in how self-determined and democratic learning is implemented. Deep research into differing practices could yield rich new, vocabulary and dimensions of democratic education that have been largely ignored.

In my overall opinion, the EUDEC conference in 2013 deserves high praise for both quality of content and organization. In my informal conversations with participants, however, the conference itself was not the star of the show – but rather the food. Chef Sytse Kramer from HetEten set up a full kitchen outdoors, employed at-risk youth as cooks, and produced restaurant-quality dishes that received near universal acclaim throughout the week. At the closing ceremony of the conference, we had a lot to cheer about, but only the raucous applause for Chef Kramer could be heard over several kilometers away in the center of Soest.

About the author

John Moravec is a scholar on the future of work and education; a global speaker; editor of the Knowmad Society project; a co-director of the Invisible Learning project; and is an advisor with Education Futures (http://www.educationfutures.com).

References

  1. EUDEC. (n.d.). European Democratic Education Community | Democratic Education. Retrieved August 05, 2013, from http://www.eudec.org/Democratic+Education
  2. Moravec, J. W. (2013a). Knowmad Society: The “new” work and education. On the Horizon, 21(2), 79–83. doi:10.1108/10748121311322978
  3. Moravec, J. W. (2013b). Rethinking human capital development in Knowmad Society. In J. W. Moravec (Ed.), Knowmad Society (1st ed.). Minneapolis: Education Futures.
  4. Thomas, A. (2013). Autonomous and informal education under threat: Summerhill, UK, Sudbury schools in The Netherlands and home education. Other Education, 2(1), 75–77.