Matriculation open! The signs are literally all around us in certain months, proclaiming the start of another academic year. Matriculation, I think we can agree, is a purely administrative term; your information is written into a database and a few papers are signed. Then might come orientation where some important facts and rules are conveyed, we find out where the fire exits are, and the first class begins.
That works well enough in a traditional education setting, because the learners are coming into a model where the teacher is at the centre, the tasks come pre-structured, and grades will tell you if you’ve met those objectives. As with the instructions, “rules” are handed down, and it’s at least implicit what might happen if we fail to observe them.
In a new education paradigm, however, we talk more of an onboarding process than matriculation (though we will still need the name of the learner, and an address would be helpful too). So what exactly does this mean, and how does it differ?
Change in education through community and culture
There are lots of ways to approach this, but let’s look at what happens in Learnlife’s particular setting over the first few weeks. Interviews are carried out with parents and learners, to get to know each other, and we begin to build a circle of support around the learner. They then join a smaller “mentor group”, which forms an inner circle of support.
With this tight knit group around them, community building can begin on a smaller scale and ripple outwards. As and when a learner is ready. It’s a bit like when you move to a new house and let your cat get used to the new place room by room, before it decides to venture out further. That is the first and last cat analogy in the article; we promise.
We all work together on a range of collaborative activities, to strengthen the bonds among learners, and break the ice. What better way to put aside any nervousness or reticence in a new environment, than to lose yourself in the joy of creativity, together? This is also a crucially important time for our learning guides to start getting to know who is in the group, and how we might best support their journey as individuals.
With the ice broken, and the learners thoroughly defrosted, a panel of returning learners come by to support our new arrivals and answer their questions in discussion that works well on a peer to peer level.
Over a period of weeks, the learners are given space and time to get used to a different way of doing things. One of the key differences that is often remarked on is the way we approach the idea of “rules”.
In a new education paradigm, rules are not handed down from on high, but community standards are discussed and agreed upon. Punitive measures are not in focus, but rather what we might do to help learners restore wellbeing and connection.
At the heart of an empathetic learning community are co-created values, not rules. Values created by the learners themselves can serve as a guiding force for them, without ever feeling like something is simply imposed upon them. This really matters, and that’s why we talk about values from day one.
Do we really want children to only know that certain behaviour is unacceptable, only because of the trouble it may bring to them, or from the raised voice of admonishment? Or can we support learners to be involved in exploring and internalizing the effects of words and actions on others, and to develop empathy and accountability?
We believe that learners should be supported to reflect on the values which they chose to represent them, how their actions may have impacted others, and what they might do to restore the sense of community in which they are already invested.
This is all part of building a learning culture, as much as a learning community, but we really can’t forget learning itself! We don’t mean learning “something” (the learners will choose what that something is). What we mean, is to learn about learning.
Learning to learn
During the onboarding phase, learners are supported and guided to open up and reflect on how they are approaching things and what learning means to them. How we manage our time and how we get the most out of learning experiences are some of the things that learners will unpack and reflect on.
Technology is here to support learning, not to direct or frame it. Project management tools, for example, are not only for businesses, and are something we use a lot. During onboarding, learners have the chance to iterate, play, and find their way through the tools available to them, and build them into their own learning experiences.
As they tour our studios, learners interact with a range of activities, studio experts, learning guides, and each other. Each of these interactions is an opportunity to begin the exploration: how I learn best, how it happens and what I really enjoy.
Exploring a new environment
Like our cat (sorry, but technically it’s the same analogy), it’s time to explore outside. Field visits to companies and universities, workspaces and local places of interest; all of these help learners get a sense of what is around them, and what might be used for their projects. Why “simulate” when the real thing is right at your doorstep?
Change in education means transitions are rites of passage
Change and transition into a new environment need to be well planned so learners feel supported and can get the most out of the experience. This is just as true when transitioning within the learning environment.
In our setting, learners are supported to move from Explorers to Creators to Changemakers by taking a step back before they step forward. In any rite of passage, there is an element of preparation and reflection.
What skills might you need to transition to this new environment? From creative confidence to technical or facilitation skills, it is important to stop and reflect on what is needed and the building blocks that will help you get there.
Socioemotional skills are just as important. When learners are asked what they might want to work on in this area, they rarely find themselves unable to express it, in our experience.
We get responses such as “I go into shutdown mode when I am stressed, and I don’t talk to anyone” or “I find it difficult to ask for help”. Having vocalised this, a learner can be supported to identify steps they might take to overcome it. They are ready for the next step.
Change in education is what you make of it
There are many stories to tell of the positive changes we have seen in learners, when the environment meets them on their terms, and supports them to express voice and choice. Keep an eye on our blog for some of these in the weeks ahead.
Change doesn’t have to be scary. It can be exciting, it can feel safe, it can be quick, or it can take longer. We know we are not letting the (same) cat out of the bag when we say change is pretty much the only constant in life. Embracing this is something that can certainly be learned, but most certainly cannot be taught.