How Networks Can Transform Learning

An essay by Mark Surman, Executive Director, Mozilla Foundation

Remake Learning
Jun 8, 2015 · 8 min read

The real challenge we face today is one of spread, scale and equity. We need to spread the innovations we see emerging so they reach everyone’s hands and minds.

One way to tackle systems change like this is with open, collaborative networks: humans connected to each other bringing their own ideas and solving their own part of the problem. Networks lend themselves to this kind of change in part because no one institution has the mandate or resources to take on massive, systemic issues like transforming education. This is fairly obvious. The less obvious — and more powerful point — is that networks have the potential to slowly transform systems by sneaking into the cracks. A single passionate educator can bring an innovative practice to a school or a city. Out-of-school spaces like libraries and museums can invent and try out radical new programs. And young people themselves can simply follow their passion on the Internet and find others to discover and create with. Together, network members come up with ideas, vet for the best ones, try things out, make things better, and over time start to transform their approach to teaching and learning. As this happens, open minded people nearby start to say: “Hey, something is different here. And it’s kind of cool. I can try this.” From there, innovations seep more deeply into the cracks.

When people build things together they tend to own them emotionally and want to roll them out after they are created.

One critical element in the effectiveness of these networks is “working in the open.” This includes a number of simple practices commonly associated with open source software: making curriculum and tools easy for others to discover; publishing using an editable format that allows others to freely use and adapt them; using an open license like Creative Commons. It also includes a set of work practices that make it easy for people to collaborate across organizations and locations: collaborative writing in shared online documents; shared public plans on wiki or other editable documents; progress reports and insights shared in real time and posted on blogs. These simple practices are the grease that lubricates the network, allowing ideas to flow and innovations to spread. More importantly, they make it possible for people to genuinely build things together — and learn along the way. This point cannot be emphasized strongly enough: when people build things together they tend to own them emotionally and want to roll them out after they are created. If the people building together are from different institutions, then the innovations spread more quickly to more institutions.

Image for post
Image for post
A community activist and technology executive of 20+ years, Mark currently serves as the Executive Director of the Mozilla Foundation, makers of Firefox and one of the largest social enterprises in the world. At Mozilla, he is focused on using the open technology and ethos of the web to transform fields such as education, journalism and filmmaking.

About the Remake Learning Playbook

This is a guest essay included in the Remake Learning Playbook, an ambitious effort to open source the “project code” for learning innovation undertaken by Pittsburgh’s Remake Learning Network.

<Previous | Next>

Table of Contents


Remake Learning Playbook

Building Collaborative Learning Innovation Networks

Remake Learning

Written by

http://RemakeLearning.org reports the happenings of the Remake Learning Network, 200+ organizations collaborating to reimagine learning in Pittsburgh.

Remake Learning Playbook

Building Collaborative Learning Innovation Networks

Remake Learning

Written by

http://RemakeLearning.org reports the happenings of the Remake Learning Network, 200+ organizations collaborating to reimagine learning in Pittsburgh.

Remake Learning Playbook

Building Collaborative Learning Innovation Networks

Welcome to a place where words matter. On Medium, smart voices and original ideas take center stage - with no ads in sight. Watch

Follow all the topics you care about, and we’ll deliver the best stories for you to your homepage and inbox. Explore

Get unlimited access to the best stories on Medium — and support writers while you’re at it. Just $5/month. Upgrade

Get the Medium app