We’ve all heard the words “innovative” and “alternative” used to describe learning environments that don’t do things the traditional way. But what does that word “innovative” really mean on a practical level, and can it really support our children to find their passions and to thrive in an uncertain future?
Choosing a learning environment for your child – is there any decision that carries greater weight for a parent? Some parents will move home just to be closer to the “right” place with a good reputation, and many will spend a great deal of time discussing the ins and outs with fellow parents and school staff, as well as pouring over reviews and brochures, websites and testimonials.
Now add on top of all that an unfamiliar education system. The decision is challenging enough in our home countries, but at least we know the lie of the land there. Moving somewhere such as Spain or Germany means getting used to a whole new “system” of education, or choosing an international school instead – small islands of familiar culture in unknown waters.
But the choice is not binary. There are other places that operate outside these options, for whom words like “innovative” and “alternative” are used in reference. What do these words really mean, and why would some use them pejoratively while others wear them as a badge of honour?
We’re afraid there is no easy answer here. These words can have as much or as little substance as any other, and can be earned or misused. They may sound like words we use for unknown quantities, but what is the opposite? “Standard” and “traditional” are the opposites, and those words are not designed to inspire the minds and hearts of the future.
What we do know is this: innovative education, when it truly earns that description, embraces its status at the vanguard of change. The space it occupies is one where everything we know about how education can best serve the next generations, meets the emerging future with confidence and versatility. But we still haven’t really explained what it means.
Evolving, not static. Voice and choice, not memorisation and multiple choice tests. Projects and experiments, not siloed subjects. Studios, forests and agile environments, not desks facing the front. Skills you can really use in life versus “why did we bother learning that?” Learners at the centre, versus teachers at the centre. While we’re on the subject: learning guides, not teachers; learning environments, not schools. Problems to solve, not Powerpoints to forget. The joy of discovery, not facts on a plate. Finding my why, not “why am I doing this?”.
That’s a pretty big nutshell. The most licentious use of “in a nutshell” since Steven Hawkings book about theoretical physics called “The Universe in a Nutshell”. He really stretched the word “brief” as well. We like Steven, because he pushed the boundaries and always looked towards the stars.
The boundaries of traditional education are stark places to be. A no-man’s land between the age of the industrial revolution and a future that is anything but predictable. We all know we need change to happen, but the real test comes in letting go. Innovative education lets go of the need to control every granule of the day, and to try to “teach” 30 children the same thing at the same time. It lets go of the production line standardisation of learning, and the fallacy that we know what the world will look like in 20 years.
Innovative education puts children at the centre, and that’s no small thing. Climate change, shifts in the balance of power and influence in society, information overload and technological progress that reframes our world by the day. Who do we want our children to be in that world? What skills and experiences can we support them to build that will help them flourish in uncertainty? Traditional education treats children as blank pages on which to print a version of the world as it is seen by a generation past. Children should always write their own stories.
Imagine finding your ikigai during your teenage years. Imagine being able to embrace failure as a learning opportunity and to have the space and support to cultivate your own interests, passions and sense of direction. Imagine understanding how we learn best so that you can apply this to anything that will be useful to your future. Imagine being able to talk about your journey, reflect on your responses and reactions, and to grow. To always grow.
This is what innovative education means. It means developing the skills that will make a real and practical difference to your life, instead of emerging from an institution to find that the knowledge you have in your notebook is already obsolete, and that the real education begins outside. It does not have to be that way.
Innovation isn’t just big ideas and theory, but the application of the strongest evidence available to make real impact. As the evidence changes, the paradigm evolves, and education becomes a living, breathing thing; created not only by academics in dusty rooms, but thought leaders, experts from industry, parents and learners. A paradigm by the community, for the community.
There is not one methodology, but many. Innovation draws from a broad suite of resources, because learners are not one dimensional. Attention is given to wellbeing and reflection. Feedback is 360 degrees to make sure that the skill of giving feedback is as prized as learning what to do with it. Learning takes place through experience, through place, through relationships and through learning what learning really is.
From tinkering with technology to pottering with peers, from sketching in a studio to exploring the experiences outside the walls, where we learn how purpose connects to the world around us. Sustainably, dynamically, purposefully, our children step forward into their own futures, on their own terms, to write their own stories.
If you are curious about the latest in learning innovation Learnlife is building an open ecosystem for a new lifelong learning paradigm to positively change education worldwide. They offer full-time, part-time, and summer programmes at their Nature Hub in Gava (for ages 6-11), Urban Hub in Barcelona (for ages 11-18), and Online Home Hub (for ages 8-18). Find out more about this innovative learning community in Barcelona here.