Friday, December 9, 2011

Learning for Living at LCU...


flickr CC image via Patrick Hoesly

Question: What will Learning Circle University look like in the real world?

Answer: It's quite simple really. Learning Circle University (LCU) is a conceptual model of learning built on a platform that supports a learning purpose. It's a circle of support enabling the learners inside it to thrive.

We can do much to surround ourselves within learning circles, but there are certainly circumstances that can hinder individual efforts to do this. Sometimes we need a little help to achieve our learning goals, or perhaps even to realize the purpose behind them. We can put ourselves in motion toward a better place, but sometimes we need a little nudge; someone to hold our hand. Either way the platform of the circle remains the same. Never before in history has there been a more optimal time to draw circles of support around those who need to know, want to know or both... anywhere, anytime and anybody learning.

We have the capacity right now to create circles of learning anywhere, anytime and for anybody. There are infinite real-time, authentic opportunities for purposeful learning designed to make things better... to make the world a better place for people. It's obvious that infinite learning opportunities create infinite teaching opportunities, (I think learning through teaching is one of the most powerful ways to learn, actually.)  LCU is designed to make the lines between learning and teaching a little less black and white; to provide circles supporting teaching and learning so that participants are doing both at the same time.

In the contemporary technological world, it's becoming increasingly easy to do this in a global context just like we would in a local context. For example, what if we were to connect pre-service, in-training medical personnel with lay medical service providers in refugee camps?

I have been fortunate to meet people from around the world who have lived in refugee camps. When we hear the news coming form these camps all over the world, we hear the message that there's a lot of work to do within them. What if instead of contextualizing what needs to be done as  work, we started to say there's a lot of learning to do within them. The Central Alberta Refugee Effort (CARE) offers a mock refugee camp program to teach people about what it's like to live and work in these camps in different parts of the world. The first time I participated in the program, I was surprised to learn how sophisticated the society of a refugee camp actually is, and the larger the camp, the more complex. Kids attend classes at the camps, medical services are provided, and people look out for those that have been separated from their families, especially the children. A local economy evolves as camps grow, and trade occurs between residents with food often becoming the pseudo-currency.

I learned from a Sudanese man who was a teacher in a very large camp that non-government agencies providing aid at the camps search for residents who have skills that can be shared to make camp life more bearable. They receive a small amount of extra money that is usually used to supplement the inadequate food and basic supply rations provided. The other thing he told me that I wasn't aware of was how digitally connected residents of the camps are; or at least how much they try to be... it's their life-line to the outside world. So refugee camp residents have skills; they have needs and connections to the outside world are entirely viable... this is a global learning circle possibility in the making.

What if pre-service medical personnel were to design ways that they can support those providing medical care inside the camps, and then utilize digital connections to deliver their support? As the in-training students are learning about how to provide medical services within their requisite programs, they could be sharing their evolving knowledge with those in the camps who are actually providing medical services in real time on the ground, but perhaps without the most current knowledge about how to do it well and efficiently... win-win-win in the sense that residents of the camps would be receiving better, more informed care; medical personnel inside the camps would be expanding their skills in real-time and in-training pre-service medical services students would be learning in the most authentic way possible- by teaching and sharing their knowledge with others in a context and for a purpose. The final piece of the puzzle would fit right into place if the post-secondary institutions these students belonged to were to recognize their project-based, purposeful and humanitarian effort to learn differently while practically applying growing skills and knowledge for accreditation toward their diploma or degree.

The shrinking world is throwing more curve balls at us every day. Increasingly complex social, emotional and cognitive challenges confront us in an ironic world where surging technology has made every corner of the globe accessible to us, whether in person, or through a cyber-connection. At the same time, our exposure to each other's social, emotional and cognitive realities has never been more prominent; our collective and increasingly inter-connected world’s are growing. As the perceived distance between us is reduced, we are now presented with glorious opportunities to harvest consciousness and be more attuned to each other's needs and the creative purpose behind collaborating to meet them and solve problems together.

Learning circles can help all of us navigate these exciting and ironic times... we just have to start drawing them. Which institution of higher education will be the first to encourage students to design their own actionable projects intended to simply make the world a better place? A system where these projects could be proposed as courses for credit, and then approved based on how well they justify the particular area of study each student is focusing on wouldn't be that hard to create, would it?

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