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Developing a Learner-Centered Culture

We all learn differently and start at different places.

We learn best by doing.

We learn best by creating.

We learn best by experiencing the world around us.

In modern workplaces, we collaborate, we showcase our work, and we project manage. Learning ecosystems are built — systems of people, content, technology, culture, experience, and strategy — which exist both inside and outside of an organization. Organizations which foster curiosity, embrace flexibility, and inspire self-directed success have healthy and resilient ecosystems.

Schools should do the same.

How does a school prioritize opportunities for students to exercise collaboration and reflection in real ways? How does a school’s model enable meaningful work that can be showcased? What is needed in a school structure to empower agency and independence, while still learning with accountability?

Our role in such an ecosystem — as Headrush, as a learner-centered management system — extends well beyond the walls of a traditional LMS. We are a learning platform for innovative educators who embrace these truths and are searching for a way to manage the messiness of agile, authentic learning. We design with the learner at the center rather than a one-size-fits-all approach.

For us, developing a learner-centered culture is ongoing and ever-evolving work. It starts as a vision, lives as our philosophy, but plays out in collective action. We’ve identified 4 key points that are vital to our learner-centered culture at Headrush. These ideas drive our powerful collaborations with organizations breaking the bounds of traditional systems. This is what connects us, in value, in vision, in action. Together, we…

Meet learners where they are

The Aurora Institute asks, “Why this massive redesign of our learning systems? First, the commitment to meet all students where they are is a moral one; we must do this because we now know from decades of cross-disciplinary research that it is the only effective way to optimize learning and growth for all children.”

In order to eliminate inequity and opportunity gaps, we must meet students where they are. This commitment requires a break from traditional systems, practices, and paradigms. While traditional systems operate under the assumption that students are learners, at Headrush, we see everyone as a learner. To meet any learner where they are at any given point in time requires flexibility. One must think through different learning scenarios that work in their respective context and support those scenarios, allowing learners to start where they need and evolve with support. A high-powered learner may have the competence to lead their own learning journey from start-to-finish, whereas a learner new to project-based learning may need scaffolding to experiment and grow such competence. Headrush was founded with the realization that barriers can be significantly lowered by the smart application of the right software that truly meets all learners where they are. Instead of applying a linear, ridgid structure of learning to the masses, we see learning as iterative and personalized for each learner’s journey.

Empower students to own their learning

John Spencer, in his book Empower: What Happens When Students Own Their Learning, states, “Your legacy as an educator is always determined by what your students do. You change the world by empowering your students to do the same.” At Headrush, we build systems and structures where students are in the driver’s seat. No other learning management system supports student-initiated project development, and are, at best, working towards it. Some of the most popular apps used in schools today, such as Google Classroom, Canvas, and/or Schoolology, have yet to imagine a world where students assign themselves a task. What sets us apart is instinctual- when we build new features, we don’t assume a teacher is in control of the learning. Learner-centered work is not an after-thought or an add-on, it is central to how we approach our application development and support innovative schools who empower students to own their learning. Students propose their own project ideas, co-create with their advisors, and/or collaborate with peers from project design to execution. Spencer reminds us that, “A curriculum map is exactly that — a map. And maps should inspire possibilities rather than limit options.” While most systems provide ready-made curriculum maps or courses, we offer the space for students to map their own learning journeys with opportunities for guidance when needed. This is how students own their learning.

Inspire learner-centered, agile ecosystems

“When we tell kids to complete an assignment, we get compliance. When we empower kids to explore and learn how to make an impact on the world, we inspire problem solvers and innovators,” says Katie Martin in her book Learner-Centered Innovation. To meet the demands of a future in flux, we must inspire learner-centered, agile ecosystems to create an environment where “learners at every level are empowered to take risks in pursuit of learning and growth rather than perfection.” The Aurora Institute believes we have a pedagogical commitment to individualize learning, and states, “this change must involve a radical shift in our practitioner stance from “teacher” to researcher, designer, diagnostician, and expert facilitator of constructive learning experiences.” This commitment can be realized when systems are in place to support such work. At Headrush, collaboration and agility sits at the center of all work. We allow flexibility in who is involved in building and creating modules. A school’s warehouse includes best practice resources: starting points, templates, and examples that can easily be adapted and renovated. Any learning experience that happens is just a starting point. The ability to copy and evolve past learning experiences mirrors how learning works in the real-world. Codifying experiences that work and sharing across learning networks allows the agility advisors need to meet their learners where they are.

Express learning to the world

While transitioning to more virtual and hybrid practices, how do schools continue to express learning to the world and showcase meaningful learning experiences? Organizations must default to a model of transparency. Transparency helps reinforce a learner-centered culture, as learners know where they stand at any given time. Headrush showcases the learner’s journey from start to finish, which is reflected in our Dashboard. Whether you are an administrator, an educator, a parent, or a student, our Dashboard view allows the transparent tracking of a learner’s journey. Students can even run their own report card at any time. This type of trust in the student is paramount — we nurture a learner’s development by providing opportunities for self-awareness, rather than enabling a traditional system which favors providing an external diagnosis at the end of term. We capture the process of learning and make visibility customizable for all. This visibility catalyzes the sharing and celebrating of learning experiences across different communities.

The future of education depends upon an adaptive and capable collective, a collective that evolves with the demands of the time. This requires a system reset. Not every organization is the same and not all organizations develop learner-centered cultures with great intention. But those that do will be more productive, have higher functioning staff, and will enhance the quality of life for those involved.

Tue Mar 23, 2021
by Breanna Morsadi
practices strategy school
1172 Words

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