Learning as a story that is larger than life

Learning as a story that is larger than life

We spoke to Chris, the founder of e² : educational ecosystems about what it means to be a lifelong learner and how we can embrace a much broader view of learning - from what we learn, to the environments we learn in and even who we are as learners. Chris brings his insights from having worked as an educator, in Government administration and in private enterprise. His organisation, e², seeks to amplify innovation in education by connecting innovators and helping them find a platform.


What are the learning environments that exist outside of school and how can we ensure educators embrace this?

Learning is the most innate human endeavour. We learn from the moment we are born. Everywhere, anywhere and constantly. Consciously or subconsciously. And yet over time, our understanding of learning has narrowed.

We have come to recognise learning as being linked to success by ensuring particular conditions are met: didactic teaching of a prescribed curriculum within fairly uniform contexts, rote learning of specific content, achievement in standardised, easy to assess ways and so on.

But learning does not exclusively take place in schools and formal education settings. For 65,000+ years First Nations communities have learnt and passed down wisdom. As the single longest continuous link with the past, grounded on Country, this cultural learning can only enrich our understanding of life, our world and our place within that.

In 1996 the OECD formally recognised Lifelong Learning for all as a fundamental competency in education.

We have now started seeing the notion of lifelong learning reflected in different programs and with new threads - Character education, Social Emotional Learning Programs, Positive Education as well as alternative learning environments in global schools, distance education, supplementary programs (sports academies etc), outdoor education programs, live in residential programs, workplace based learning programs, recognition of prior learning initiatives etc. These are all ways that we are seeing learning through life rather than just within a school context.

As educators, we can embrace the notion of lifelong learning by broadening our perspectives, consciously acknowledging & drawing with intent from learning possibilities all around us. We must exercise our insight and means to draw explicit links between seemingly disconnected issues so that students can experience the whole gamut of learning experiences. These are the experiences they will remember. Not yet another lesson regurgitating what they think is expected of them.

This learning life presents Five Mindsets for learning through life. If you were to describe them as a whole story of learning, what would you say?

I would link it to the emergence² model which illustrates a journey of self discovery and ‘becoming’. As humans, our ability for creative solutions and innovation is unparalleled. And yet rarely do we consciously spend time in this state. The five mindsets looks like a model that attempts to illustrate the different stages of the story of transformational learning.

When we see learning as a story we are far more likely to embrace the non-linear nature of different experiences, complete with its highs and lows. Whereas when we view learning as an absolute, as a transactional process, then the story is more rigid. Tangents are important. Curiosity is important. Flow is important. Models like the 5 mindsets and emergence² articulate a fluid narrative that is permissive of an organic process.

If you were to choose one mindset, which one would you choose and what is the story that sits behind it for you?

Beautiful question! I think the answer to it would depend very much on a person's stage of life and the current circumstances they face. Personally, being in lockdown last year meant I had an extraordinary amount of time available to reflect. I have had the opportunity to be very deliberate and explicit in identifying what’s important to me. What makes me tick. What are the absolute non-negotiables.

I have then been fortunate enough to have the luxury of being able to immerse myself in conceptualising and strategising how I might put my priorities into action. How I might contribute more tangibly and meaningfully. This mindset reminds me of the “working mindset” which seeks to redefine what success is and to put into practical action what makes us feel purposeful and meaningful.

But over and above that I also feel like I have now been through a number of life experiences – migration, working in different sectors and industries, financial and personal loss or grief, parenting challenges, health difficulties. I can be confident that I can rely on the skills and knowledge acquired in some fairly difficult circumstances. There is a degree of assurance and presence of mind that now means I give myself permission to sit with discomfort without the expectation of anything else other than what it is. That to me sounds more like a wise mindset.

How could you describe it in more detail in relation to pivoting during COVID, how could that play out in education?

Life affords innumerable opportunities to learn. Covid being is a case in point. Challenges dished up by 2020 mean we have to learn and learn quickly. Educators who take the time to invest in their own learning journeys develop skills that simplify their practice. For example, by drawing insights from existing community issues, utilising observations from real world events or engaging in professional learning networks, it becomes easier to share the burden of designing relevant and engaging learning experiences in real time. This subsequently allows educators to focus more on intra and interpersonal dynamics of learners which is often the real litmus test for effective learning.

When we adopt a birds eye view of our context and evolving circumstances we are able to identify what really matters.

It has become self-evident that educational systems around the world view the current model as having served its purpose, but is now no longer sufficiently reflective of time and place. We need a fit-for purpose tailored education model that promotes personalisation and relevance in a bid to re-engage learners so that they may feel empowered and capable in the face of ever faster and growing change.

Education is not something that is done to us. Education is part and parcel of who we are and everything we do.

Communities around the world rely on goodwill and shared values, built by educational systems, in order to flourish. That being the case, education has a fundamental role to play to ensure students have every opportunity to be not only productive members of society, but more importantly, fulfilled and purposeful members of society.

What do you think is the biggest change we need to see in Australian education?

We need a more nuanced and responsive balance between accountability and processes alongside agency and personalisation. We need to interrogate the why behind education. Is it simply a means to an end or an end in itself? Do we value that which we measure or measure that which we value?

I would argue that we’ve standardised education in a way that has drained it of its vibrancy and zest. This has led to a disinterest in learning and an avoidance of something we now view as a chore instead of an integral part of who we are. Too many young people see learning in this way because it’s been presented to them this way - uninspiring.

The ‘Mcdonaldization’ of education has meant that our intellectual, spiritual and emotional pallets have become numbed, desensitised to the bland fare dished up to us every day. We need a reset in shared values, broad protocols and common aspirations so that sufficient scope is given for agency and flexibility to co-exist. We need to lift the engagement and not just maintain what we have.

Engaged individuals feel a shared sense of ownership and are invested in the learning outcome.


Chris Menage, Founding Partner e² : educational ecosystems