10 Learning Organizations that Inspired me in 2012 #education #edu #highered

Continuing my series of blog reflections on life and learning in 2012, here are the 10 Learning Organizations that inspired me.  Keep in mind that I am working from an un-cloistered definition of learning organization.

KM Global – Even the web site is enough to inspire you, but spending a half day there last Spring was powerful.  This is a project-based learning charter school with a global perspective.  The administrator, Dr. Dr. (not a typo) Valerie Schmitz is an amazing educational entrepreneur and visionary.  After visiting I contracted her to design and teach a new online graduate course called Innovation in Education (contact me if you are interested in taking it).  By the way, for part of my own professional development, I make it a goal of finding, visiting and learning from at least four innovative learning organizations each year.  That is what led me to KM Global.  I have to say that visiting four such schools a year has been one of the most significant parts of my professional development over the last few years.

 P2PU – For me, 2012 has been heavy on self-directed and peer-to-peer learning, so P2PU was a perfect spot for experimentation and exploration.  I have to confess that my follow through has been poor in the courses that I’ve tried, but even so, I’ve learned a great deal. I continue to be inspired by the idea of an online peer-to-peer learning environment.

 American Public University  – They get online learning and do it well.  Another way that I engage in ongoing learning is that I take random online courses from various programs around the world.  I think that I’ve taken courses at twenty-one of them now.  I do it to learn the content, taking courses of interest, but I’m mostly interested in learning about their distance learning program itself.  I’ve had my share of good and terrible experiences, but APUS ranks in the top five best online programs.  It is not perfect because that doesn’t exist, but what they do really well is that they are organized, they manage to focus their effort on the things that matter, and they bring in excellent faculty.  To illustrate the caliber of faculty that they hire, my last professor was doing adjunct work for APUS and his full-time job was in the Harvard Kennedy School.  I liked my first online course so much that I just kept taking classes.  I might even ended up earning another graduate degree before I am finished.

Twitter – I’ve been a member for a few years now, but this year I got serious about seeking out diverse people who are passionate about educational innovation, learning, design, technology, and positive social change.  Every time that I open up TweetDeck, it is like a attending a 15-20 minute conference.  More than once, someone’s tweet was the inspiration behind hours of fruitful study and research, often resulting in something that I implemented with my team at work or a class that I teach.  And yes, Twitter is a learning organization. It is a social media organization that has inspired thousands to discover the power of networked learning.

Audible – Yes, this is the audio book services that is now owned by Amazon, and they make it possible for me to work through an extra 12-15 books a year when I’m traveling. Getting an audible subscription, I also took the opportunity to listen to some of my favorite reads from the past, and I was amazed to discover how differently I process books when I listen to them rather than read them.  When it comes to remembering discrete facts, reading still works best for me.  When it comes to getting inspired by an idea, listening works great.  As I see it, audible helped me take self-directed learning to the next level.

North Star Academy – I contacted one of the founders early in 2012 hoping to take a trip out to MA and visit, but I still have not managed to do so.  Even so, when I first came across their site and had a chance to chat and email with one of the founders, I was excited about the possibilities that it sparked in my thinking about alternative education.  From their website, “North Star is a center for self-directed learning and community-based education functioning like a YMCA or other member-based organization.  Member teens choose from among a wide array of educational options depending on their needs and interests.”

Academia.edu – At first, I was skeptical about this online social network for academics, but a year later, I’ve come to realize that I’ve built some amazing and fruitful partnerships through this site.  For me, most of the power comes from learning about people with similar research interests, reading some of their work, chatting via email, and sometimes extending it to a Skype chat or sustained sharing on Twitter.

TED – It is hard to find someone who doesn’t benefit from an occasional and inspiring TED talk. I’ve always appreciated them for a little inspiration or just stretching me to think about and experience ideas from a different discipline or a new perspective.  This year I also started participating in several of the live streamed TED events.  A live video steam along with an active Twitter stream made for some excellent learning experiences.

Alternative Universities –  I’ll give you a little insight into one of my secret strategies for brainstorming and thinking differently about education.  It isn’t anything earth-shattering.  I just Google “Alternative University” and click on the Wikipedia page that comes up.  What you find is a list of fresh and inspiriting approaches to teaching and learning: serving learning, self-directed learning, schools that focus upon the great books of the Western world, and schools that found wisdom in setting aside letter grades for something more substantive and academically challenging. Spend an hour browsing though some of their vision statements and other resources, and it gives you a fresh perspective on the possibilities of education.  It helps me reconsider what is essential, what is important, and what is merely present in my learning organization.  I know that this isn’t a single learning organization, but the “alternative University” group has certainly inspired me in 2012.  I’m hoping to visit a few more of them this year as well.  Web sites are nice, but that can’t replace the direct experience (unless, of course, it is an online University).

St. Paul Lutheran School – Unless you live in my area, you have probably never heard of it.  They are not doing anything especially innovative, but they are doing something that inspires me.  One committed teacher is doing an amazing job inspiring my son.  For that reason, it makes the list for me.  Even (or maybe especially) in 2012; a caring, committed, creative teacher can do amazing things.

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About Bernard Bull

Dr. Bernard Bull is an author, professor of education, Vice Provost of Curriculum and Academic Innovation, podcast host, and blogger. Some of his books include Missional Moonshots: Insights and Inspiration for Educational Innovation, What Really Matters: Ten Critical Issues in Contemporary Education, The Pedagogy of Faith (editor), Adventures in Self-Directed Learning, and Digitized: Spiritual Implications of Technology. He is passionate about futures in education; educational innovation; and social entrepreneurship.