The Future of Learning and Education: Children, Educators, and Creatives as Co-Creators

Rufina K. Park
Apr 7, 2017 · 6 min read

Imagine this: a magazine that features a five year-old’s drawing of an imaginary school next to an article about design thinking and IDEO’s redesign of schools by Ivy-league trained architects. Would you be puzzled to see the juxtaposition of these two sections? Or, would you be excited to learn from the child and the architects? You may be inclined to take the former position. However, the importance of creativity in the 21st century and the necessity to democratize the conversations about education calls for a more collaborative approach such as the one suggested by the magazine.

Think, Do, and Breath Creativity: Survival Guide for the 21st Century

We are living in one of the most rapidly changing times in history. The fourth industrial revolution and the rapid advancement of AI and robotics technology are threatening routine jobs and long-established industries. Gone are the days when we could rely on the skills and credentials gained from 4-year colleges. Instead, today’s leaders need to be lifelong learners who can foresee future possibilities and create new value.

Gone are the days of rote-memorization, teaching subjects separately, and relying on standardized exams. In the creative era, we need teaching and learning that celebrate and nurture creativity, passions, and student-interests. Today, there are a variety of innovative pedagogical models that promise to do this such as project-based learning, flipped learning, and design thinking. Although there are many different approaches, we can summarize this as a lifelong kindergarten approach to learning. Mitch Resnick, who directs the Lifelong Kindergarten Group at the MIT Media Lab, suggests that the traditional kindergarten approach to learning is “ideally suited to the needs of the 21st century” because kindergarteners learn the creative process through phases to imagine, create, play, share, and reflect. While we may not be doing the same activities as in kindergarten such as finger painting or building with wooden structures, the creative processes we acquired in kindergarten is essentially the one we need to re-learn to thrive in the 21st century.

Early childhood educators have long embraced the values of creative learning — notably those who embrace the ideals of Montessori, Reggio Emilia, and Waldorf education. Now, this kindergarten approach to learning is becoming increasingly adopted and practiced for older students in innovative schools such as High Tech High and International Baccalaureate schools. In higher education, the MIT Media Lab, NYU’s Gallatin School of Individualized Study, Minerva KGI, and MOOCs (massive open online courses) promise more interdisciplinary and self-directed learning.

There is increasing support for a lifelong kindergarten mindset and approach to learning outside of formal education. Billionaire and Founder of the Virgin Group, Richard Branson is someone who often credits much of his success to thinking like a toddler. He says, “Children look at the world with wonder and inquisitiveness, and see opportunities where adults often see obstacles. I believe that we should not only listen to them more, but also act more like them”. Growing interests in a lifelong kindergarten approach is also backed by research evidence. For instance, in a US study on adult creativity, Darya Zabelina and Michael Robinson of North Dakota State University (2010) discovered that adults who adopted a child-like mindset displayed more creative originality than others who did not.

Creativity, a child-like mindset, and early childhood approaches to teaching and learning have more relevance today than ever before, which is why there is enormous value in learning from children, creative professionals, and educators who practice creative teaching and learning.

The Need for a More Organic and Collaborative Vision for Learning and Education

In addition to the immediate benefits we can reap from connecting with those who live and breath a lifelong kindergarten approach to learning, children, creative professionals, and educators also deserve to have their voices heard because we need to democratize the conversations about learning and education.

Today, decisions made about education policy, teacher education, and curriculum development continues to be dictated by standardized data, assessments, and competition. Over reliance on standardized data — incomplete information — makes the decision makers and financiers of education (that is policymakers, businesses, and politicians) out of touch with the hopes, dreams, and realities faced by students, educators, and parents. In addition, this practice risks a kind of worldwide homogenization of education where all countries strive for the same type of schooling without attending to the unique needs and desires of their respective cultures, peoples, and environments.

We need to move away from top-down and factory-model processes of educational reform and instead adopt a more inclusive, collaborative, and creative model. This alternative and new vision for creative learning can be illustrated with the image of a community garden where experts and amateurs, the young and old come together to collectively decide on the seeds we want to grow and the tools we want to use to nurture and beautify the type of garden for our community.

The Case for Children, Educators, and Creatives and Co-Creators

As a former student, teacher, curriculum designer, and education researcher, I wondered how I could help make an alternative and new vision for creative learning a reality. Could we create a forum where children, educators, and creatives could come together and lead the conversations about the future of learning and education? How wonderful would it be if we could discover: what is meaningful, creative, and fun learning and education — what it is to the child in pre-k in Songdo, Korea, for the 6th grade teacher in Helsinki, Finland and for the educational architect in Boston, USA.

Last year, I took a leap of faith and decided to work on a project that would make these ideas come true. Along the way, like-minded people came together in my journey and I became we. While we don’t claim to know all the answers, we find value in the process of figuring it out together as a community of people who share similar visions for learning & education. We want to help each other to help make learning and education closer to what makes us smile, what makes our hearts pound with excitement, and what makes us get up in the morning to go to school.

Through our work, we aspire to be a platform for children, educators, architects, and practitioners to suggest creative and thought-provoking ideas for learning and education. For educators and families, we are a toolkit with enriching articles and hands-on activities. And for researchers, we are a light house to look into the future and discover creative practices and new areas to explore and study.

The magazine I asked you to imagine in the beginning of this article is called Ottiya and it has finished the editorial/design process and is crowdfunding to print its first issue. And yes, two sections from our first issue does include a section of illustrations of schools by a children from all over the world and a story about IDEO ’s redesign of school cafeterias by two architects — one from Harvard and another a Columbia grad and Fulbright scholar.

I hope that this article has convinced you of the timeliness and the inherent value of bringing together children, educators, and creatives to discuss the future of learning and education. If you’re intrigued, I would love for you to check out our work and consider joining our growing global community. Together, we can uplift and bring together children, educators, and creatives to create a positive change for learning and education everywhere.

Much love,

Rufina

Ottiya

Meaningful, creative, and fun learning & education