Five mindsets for learning through life

Five mindsets for learning through life

A helicopter view of Australian education in its formal sense takes most of us on a thought journey that starts with kindergarten or pre-school, and finishes with TAFE or University – if we get that far.

For most of us, the ride begins at age four, and moves us through at least four separate structures or systems of learning from early childhood to primary and secondary and then onto further education. Each system has its own mini-narrative, communities, influencers and pathways in or out. And each system also has a preferred way of describing what success looks like – even though the word success in itself is riddled with contention.

But the real and inter-connected story of learning throughout our whole life is begging to be told. It is making new ground as part of our national story through solid evidence and with a dynamic display of collaborative activities across many sectors as we grapple with change and the recent COVID-19 disruptions.

The future is only minutes away, learning is for life

If the story of learning through life was to replace the notion of an Education system, we’d need to be linking activities to the pockets of evidence that describe where, how and when we learn at our best.

We’d see learning start well before we start school as a new recognised norm. And we’d be describing an era where young people are learning in a range of settings, guided by educators but also driving their future through multiple careers as capable life-long learners.

We would be celebrating learning through different experiences and settings – learning on Country with First Nations communities, in our backyards or small dwellings, while caring for our brothers and sisters or elders, online and in-person. Learning would be recognised inside and outside the classroom, with knowledge and lived experiences recognised in equal measure. We’d be meeting learning outcomes regardless of where we lived, what school we went to or where we worked. In our working lives, we’d be learning new ways to do things every 9 months. We would be able to join the dots between the millions of neural pathways that are built before our second birthday and how strong foundations set us up to be our best – even when we are at our most vulnerable.

But we would not finish there. We’d follow the story of learning into our older years, maybe even into life after work, where learning would continue to ensure we remain connected, and as a way to safeguard against some aspects of memory loss in old age.

While many of us know this – as students, educators, parents, employees, thinkers and planners – learning through life is a story that is yet to be told in full in a way that we can collectively own at a national scale in one agreed form.

It’s a disjointed story because historically, our learning system has been broken up by separate experiences – across age groups, states and territories, funding arrangements, schools and colleges, postcodes of success or disadvantage, faculties and subjects, tests, scores and measures, teaching styles and theories.

In Australia we have a unique setting as a federated country, with many cultures and languages and one of the oldest living knowledge cultures in the world to draw from and celebrate.

So it is possible to create a globally distinctive narrative about learning that reflects Australia’s potential, especially now that so many of the rules are being thrown out the window due to COVID. But it’s complex and there is no one single organisation or policy that can represent this story. It needs to emerge through a process of engagement sparked by creative thinking.

This learning life introduces five mindsets, or themes, that when explored could help us to better articulate and envision a future where young people are capable, confident and productive in their learning. Right now, we can’t say that with full confidence as the data is telling a different story – one that is hard to feel proud of.

New mindsets for learning through life

Too many children start school behind. And too many young people are unemployed or underemployed even though many of them have been through each of our systems. On top of this, employers are telling us they are struggling to find employees with the skills they need.

By using a sequence of mindsets, like thinking hats, we can liberate ourselves from the circular conversations and debates or blame games that have occupied our discussions around education and performance to date.

We can move across systems and join things together – or separate them out. We can dive into what learning might look like if we were to re-imagine it as a whole. My hope is that with a level of curation through five mindsets, we can contribute to the broader work of Learning Creates and support new thinking, ask difficult questions, suggest answers and support the Learning Creates collective mission.

The five mindsets are but one tool, and they have no ready-made story behind them.

For the next five articles I will interview thought leaders who have a role to play in a new joined up story about learning and ask them to wear a new hat – a particular mindset. The five mindsets are a starting point and will evolve through deeper consultation. They were co-created by people who care about learning, from many different perspectives. But now they need to be put to the test.


Kate Scott is Director of Streamer Strategy.