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May 8, 2018

My Learning Transcends the Classroom: Creating an Open-Walled Education

Colleen Broderick, VP of Learning

AltSchool’s VP of Learning, Colleen Broderick, takes us through five elements of learner-centric education and shares how each element guides AltSchool’s pedagogical vision and development of practices and software. This last installment focuses on open-walled learning.

Read the first four installments:
I Learn According to My Needs: Enabling Competency-Based Education
I Drive What I Learn: Enabling Learner Agency
I Develop a Strong Sense of Self: Making Learning Personalized, Relevant, and Contextualized
I Am Active in My Learning Community: Socially Embedded Learning

When it comes to AltSchool’s commitment to develop the conditions for learner-centric environments, we promise learners an experience where “learning transcends the classroom.”

This can mean two things:

  • First, learning transcends the time boundaries of formal education and continues to be applicable after students graduate.
  • Second, learning transcends the physical boundaries of the classroom and the opportunity for engagement extends beyond its walls.

Transcending the Temporal Boundaries of School

When a learner-centric education transcends the classroom, it holds value beyond a student’s formal education. We’ve talked about this extensively in our previous posts—particularly when we discussed learner agency and relevant and contextualized learning. Focusing on learner agency enables students to become lifelong learners after they leave school, continuing to apply the practices they developed in school to acquire new knowledge and skills. In addition, learning that is personally relevant to students has a purpose: A student empowered with a relevant education can answer, “Why do I need to learn this?” They often look to the future to answer this question, imagining big possibilities for their lives beyond school.

Watch: A Look at the AltSchool Platform

Transcending the Physical Boundaries of School

In open-walled learning, we think of classrooms as a learner’s home base. The classroom is a safe community where a student is known and valued and gets support to organize his or her learning. It’s where students build foundational skills and make sense of big ideas together. But learning opportunities extend beyond this space. An open-walled education takes advantage of learning outside of the primary learning environment while inviting the outside world into the primary learning environment. To be considered an open-walled model, experiences beyond the boundaries of schools are integrated into the core of the learning model, not bolted on as one-offs.

In a competency-based environment where formative assessments are central, teachers can track student progress regardless of where learning is happening. As opposed to a more traditional model, where students demonstrate what they learned in summative assessments like quizzes, a teacher can observe learning that happens outside of the classroom as formative assessment tasks: Are students able to apply the foundational skills they learned in the classroom once they leave the walls of the school?

Read more from Colleen Broderick: Amplifying Goal-Setting with Technology

Experiential and Situated Learning

Open-walled learning is closely linked with both experiential and situated learning. In experiential learning, student tasks are based on real-life situations like practical tasks, simulations, and scenarios. Much of the project-based learning that happens at AltSchool is experiential, and the benefits are well-documented: Students remember the knowledge, skills, and habits they learn through experiential learning and are better able to transfer their learning to new situations.

Situated learning reaps many of the same benefits, but is more directly related to real-life environments. Its intention is to create a situation for the learner to learn or perform a task in a professional, authentic world. Examples of situated learning can be industry placements, internships, service learning, and apprenticeships. Situated learning can exist at all age levels; teachers can balance classroom and non-classroom time according to students’ needs and abilities.

Don’t miss What Is Personalized Learning? by AltSchool Chief Impact Officer Devin Vodicka.

Open-Walled Learning at AltSchool

Students across AltSchool’s lab schools practiced situated learning recently, choosing to use the National School Walkout on March 14th as an opportunity to learn more about current events. While the national dialogue around the walkout focused on gun laws, our students took the initiative to explore a variety of issues that ignited their passion and led their own investigations into those issues. In the home base of their classroom, they discussed what it means to be an American, some of the positive and negative aspects of American history, and why it’s important for individuals to stand up for what they believe in. In the end, students chose their own reasons for walking out of school.

When the day of the walkout came, different schools and grades took varying approaches. In Yerba Buena, our youngest students participated in a Peace March, spreading messages of peace by handing out notes in Yerba Buena Gardens. This allowed them to practice using their voices for change.

In Palo Alto, students pursued individual motivations for why they were marching. Some walked out for LGBT rights, some for wildlife conservation, and others for safer schools. In this situated learning experience, students demonstrated agency by choosing their own causes and standing up for what they believe in inside and outside of school.

In all cases, students started their foundational learning in the classroom, then went out into their community to continue their exploration and make an impact on the world. Their learning transcended the classroom, and we can’t wait to see what they use their voices for over the coming decades.

Read the first four installments:
I Learn According to My Needs: Enabling Competency-Based Education
I Drive What I Learn: Enabling Learner Agency
I Develop a Strong Sense of Self: Making Learning Personalized, Relevant, and Contextualized
I Am Active in My Learning Community: Socially Embedded Learning
Learn more about our lab schools and our partner school program.

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