Swarming the Education System

Daniel Capul
4 min readMay 15, 2020

“The beginning of greatness is to be different, and the beginning of failure is to be the same.”

  • Roy Whittier

I’ve never been good at change. I’m from a small-town where everything is reliable. You went to school from 8–3, football games on Friday nights, and church on Sunday mornings. I went to college the first time around on a football scholarship. Sort of a big fish in a small pond. Of course I didn’t realize that at the time. I was used to everyone knowing me back home, and school was never an issue because I played sports. College was like that…until knee injury #6 meant I was done.

Here came the change.

I tried the same methods in a system that wasn’t meant for “non-football Daniel”. I was failing. At 21 years old, I quit college. Football was done, I didn’t know how to learn without my crutch. I had been set up to fail.

After doing some soul-searching I found 28 year old Daniel with a family trying to be better. I decided to try my hand at school again, now as a non-traditional student.

Non-traditional student.

Here came the change.

I managed to get by in my classes, even getting A’s and getting my 2.0 GPA slowly up. College was like I remembered, textbooks, teachers, and tests. I could do this. I could get by.

HHP 340: Tests and Measurements in Health & Human Performance.

Great, a class about health and what I thought was fitness. Piece of cake.

Little did I know this cake was a treat out of Willy Wonka’s factory. The concept of learning presented was called “Swarm Learning”. It was different, and unfamiliar. It was open to suggestions and essentially, whatever the learner wanted it to be.

Confused yet? I was too.

(Cue instant regret. Searching how to drop the course. )

Organic learning. Ideas were supposed to spark curiosity and I was to seek answers in my methods and ways. I wasn’t being taught THE way or even A way to do things… I was just told to find some way that worked. Loose guidelines were a thing in this classroom. You were responsible for yourself and completing the work. If you didn’t like the way something was done, your job was to tell the instructor you did not like it.

No tests. No quizzes. No essays.

The walls around every idea I have built around the “right way” learning occurs crumbled. I honestly froze. I referred to the syllabus constantly because I was sure I was missing something or making some mistake. Problem was, I couldn’t read the syllabus because it was all over the place on the screen. Slightly wordy, and I couldn’t find anything I needed.

So what did I do? I put it in the survey when I was asked my opinion. I felt like I was complaining. I felt…bad? The normal education system had conditioned me to accept the learning I was given. The next week I found a modified syllabus.

And things felt easier. Clearer. (Just a little)

So what is Swarm Learning? Swarm learning is a style of teaching that allows immediate feedback from students to change a class, while the class is still in progress. It allows a customized curriculum FOR the students BY the students. The methods that learning occurs may be changed, but not the actual concepts (Jamie Schwandt 2018).

Just getting by was no longer an option. Learning now was involved and engaging. I wasn’t just checking the boxes of our traditional education system.

There’s where the problem falls.

I had been checking the boxes and getting by. The traditional education system is set up to test knowledge without regard for how the student feels in the process of learning. It is creating a system of memorize and forget. Because funding and standardized tests guide learning, the emphasis is on the end result of rather than the process of getting there (The Tenney School 2015). We must look at the process as well the result.

So what did I learn?

Did I learn the concepts the class intended to teach me? Yes, I learned them. I understood them, and I never took an exam to prove it. I engaged with my classmates and instructor. I asked questions and I gave my opinions. When a process didn’t work for me, I learned it was okay to speak up. I was often reminded of the trial and error of parenting. You learn a lot raising your first kid. You make mistakes, and you adapt. That is what swarm learning is. Something doesn’t work, you change it. You don’t wait until your kid is grown up and try to be better with the next one.

I’ve never been the “smart kid” in class. I have never been the one who knew all of the answers. This type of learning made me uncomfortable initially because if something didn’t work I had to speak up. It took one time to learn that my opinions mattered. I was being heard. Swarm learning taught me that a constant state of change was normal. I just had never realized it. I learned to adapt, and I learned a course could adapt. Black and white isn’t a thing in swarm learning. There are colors.

Change is a good thing.

Schwandt, Jamie. “Swarm Learning: How Student Feedback Changes a Class In Progress.” Medium, October 8, 2018. https://medium.com/@jamieschwandt/swarm-learning-how-student-feedback-changes-a-class-in-progress-87f59e4a35a1.

The Tenney School. “What the Traditional Classroom Gets Wrong and How to Address It.” (2015). https://tenneyschool.com/what-the-traditional-classroom-gets-wrong-and-how-to-address-it/