LRNG Comes to Ohio

[First published on LinkedIn].

It’s been a long time coming.

When we started in 2010 working with Ohio’s Credit Flex law, we created a demonstration app for issuing micro-credits. Essentially, components of high school learning that would accumulate into full Carnegie Units. If you learned the fundamentals of Javascript on CodeSchool, Art History on Khan Academy, welding basics and safety at a MakerSpace, or music theory at your local arts center, under Ohio law you might earn high school credit. We set out to make it easier to do so.

Then Mozilla began to standardize Open Badges. We knew help had arrived. Microcredits might now have a face and a wider ecosystem to live in.

Yet it seemed an impossible leap to get people to think of micro-credit badges as a path to fundamentally, but conservatively, transform high school. Nationally, the competency-based learning people were working to put traditional coursework on a flexible student-centered schedule; the Blended Learning communities focused on technology for the same. Statewide, the diploma innovators were working to mix into high school fairly traditional industry certifications. Think tanks were advocating for even more end-of-course testing for science, history and civics. College and AP courses were pushing even deeper into the high school DNA. Voices for constructivism and un-schooling were growing even more numerous and vociferous. And, many, many teachers and citizens just wanted it all to go back to the way it was.

Meanwhile the real problem still stood: high school isn’t adapting fast enough to the explosion of even basic, fundamental knowledge. For all the innovations and reforms, high school was still focused on snapshot of human knowledge circa 1990.

Teens see this. They know how fast they can learn with their peers in Minecraft or World-of-Warcraft. They master all sorts of things in a flash via Youtube. Then they go to school and plod through a dolloped-out, haphazardly-created curriculum, often scripted by their teacher at 10pm the night before.

Through this, the 50% of teens who aren’t going to college seem to be graduating more often, and yet being increasingly under-served in learning.

All of which begs for the call issued by Gisele Huff here: Don’t Reform Education: Transform It.

So when we saw that Mozilla was launching city-wide badging programs, when we saw that they were funding micro-credentialed learning experiences, we got pretty excited.

Except that LRNG works outside school.

Or does it?

This month, Open Badges officially arrived in Ohio with the kickoff of LRNG Columbus. Many of the leaders were formal educators.

After four years of planning and hesitant starts, it looks like a solid beginning. The ballroom of the Columbus Foundation was filled to capacity with leaders ready to scale out-of-school youth learning experiences. Many of us spent the afternoon learning the platform and designing after-school learning and badged experiences.

It’s easy to be either over- or under-appreciative of the LRNG work. If the above video resonates with you, you may think it a magic path to eliminating all the dreadful math and science requirements of a high school diploma. Or, if you’re a hard curriculum guy like me, you may dismiss it as a distraction from the real business of giving serious K-12 educations to those who are not now making it into college, or aren’t adequately prepared when they get there.

So here’s my story: I got into a world-class physics program partly because of math tests. But I also got my confidence and vocabulary and learning and speaking from being around vocal adults outside school, from 4-H projects, from peer-leadership experiences, from hand tools around the house, and from joining community building and fund-raising efforts, alongside the adults who were in them.

Getting more teens into these experiences is what LRNG is all about. It is, essentially, about building connections when connections to fit the teen aren’t immediately otherwise near.

(LRNG | Sprout Playbook)

This is what the Many Paths manifesto says about learning:

The gift of learning should actually feel like a gift.
Wonder has a place in learning, alongside — and equal to — Grit and tenacity.
“From ancient civilizations to far-away galaxies, from tyrants to heroines, from terrible wars to magnificent works of art, the world of knowledge contains wonders that young people eagerly explore..when given the opportunity.”
Our high schools do not push teens to nearly their full learning potential.
“Too often the current system leaves teachers exhausted, parents frustrated, and children uninspired.”


Since you can be an engineer on a fighter jet program and never solve nonlinear systems of equations, those worthy precepts shouldn’t keep teens from a diploma and a first skilled job.
While we wish teens ready to have the experience of deriving Mr. Schrodinger’s equation for the cascading energy levels of an atom (an atom in the cherry-wood log burning on the hearth, of a cold winter’s eve); ready to have a sense of how Verizon crams a high-def movie into a 80-year-old miles-long telephone wire; ready to be able to look at the economists’ ‘Gini Coefficient’ and see the profound limitations on its use; such readiness should be something teens work to rise to, not be measured as coming up short against.


High school, as is, involves too much hand-holding, for too long, for far too many teens.
Nearly every teen should enjoy at least a CU of independent learning, to a level personalized to stretch their comfort zone.
While we don’t hold that teens should have HS ‘majors’, throughout school they should be working pathways that are individual to their curiosity and wonder. Independence should increase as they progress along the pathway.

As I sat in the LRNG badging workshop, I was struck by how teens outside school could actually do our work of innovating curriculum for teens inside school. The very parts of this effort that I’m not great at? They probably are.

So I’m really looking forward to the next round of workshops. To partnering with some arts organizations, with Junior Achievement, and with some companies and organizations that aren’t yet part of the LRNG Columbus gathering.

Even better, Ohio boasts two LRNG cities. LRNG Springfield was there, too. Springfield, moreover, is based in a school. I’m super looking forward to visiting them and perhaps working with their teachers, community members, and teens.

And, we spent much of last year with LRNG Pittsburgh, just up the river. In a city home to some amazing learning science orgs and learning companies itself.

These three nearby city efforts, combined with the LRNG national repository and support structure? Add Ohio’s unique Credit Flexibility options? A perfect storm for experimenting with a new coherent value network for teens.