Getting Real: Renewable Experiential & Applied Learning

One of the best parts about working with David Wiley (@opencontent) at Lumen Learning is how he inspires new thinking in me and others around him.

A series of conversations with David about what he introduced me to as disposable assignments—students hate doing them, you hate grading them—led us to start calling the alternative—assignments where students produce meaningful, public works—”renewable assignments”. David has expanded on this thinking, talking about the potential cognitive surplus that could be realized if all disposable assignments became renewable.

This line of thinking in turn led me to start imagining larger constellations of renewable educational activity. For example: imagine an EDU institution that has relationships with one or more local businesses, nonprofits or government organizations. Graduates from the institution are often employed by the organizations and/or organization workers often participate in professional development at the institution. These relationships exist all over and are a welcome sign of healthy community engagement and economic development.

Such relationships also sometimes (often?) include opportunities for the institution’s students to engage in experiential learning at the organization through programs like internships.

Take such a relationship one step further by adding renewable assignments to create a virtuous cycle of activity between the institution and organization. Students might begin their learning in the institution, taking classes that include renewable assignments to create learning resources specifically focused on knowledge and skills important to work happening at the partner organization. These assignments create an expanding body of works that become learning resources for future cohorts of students.

As students advance in their learning pathways, they might engage in experiential learning at the partner organization (eg, internships, employee professional development) where part of their assignment is to engage in experiential learning that produces work products for the organization, and part is collecting information and experience to produce and augment more learning materials their fellow and future students would use back at the institution in formal learning contexts. In short, advancing students would use both their formal and experiential learning to create and improve the “textbook” that future students would use in turn to advance their learning.

As students cycle from the institution, to internships, back to formal coursework, to graduation, to employment at the organization, and back to the institution again for professional development, they become the agents of a continuing, “renewable” learning cycle that generates highly relevant and current learning resources and deeper connections between the institution, organization and the community around both.

Faculty and organization workers become the guides, editors and mentors in this cycle, ensuring quality and continuity in learning activities and materials, as well as developing deeper relationships with each other and between their organizations.

Institutions demonstrate and ensure a deeper connection to their community, its economic health, and the relevancy of their educational programs, which attract and retain students.

Organizations ensure that the pipeline of new employees better fits their needs and have the opportunity to test out and help shape individuals in lower-stakes but still highly-relevant engagements before they become employees. Employee professional development is better able to evolve into meaningful learning rather than an empty requirement that just gets checked off.

It goes without saying that the open licensing of the work created in these renewable cycles ensures its frictionless participation in future cycles. Partner institutions can contribute and get credit for their sponsorship of these materials as an added benefit.

I’ve started to think of terms to describe this virtuous cycle of renewable learning:

Renewable experiential and applied learning (REAL)

Renewable economic development (RED)

Renewable community engagement (RCE)

More acronyms to come…

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