Real Learning Movement: Subsidiarity for Learning Systems

(draft 1 by Patrick Gibbs in February 2009 — may receive updates based on further thinking and feedback)

What transformation does the Real Learning Movement seek?
A shift in the ways we design systems to foster learning, and a shift in our conception of learning and the world (a shift in our worldview).

What is Real Learning?
Learning which truly nourishes learners, communities, and the earth.
Learning which truly nourishes learners and their communities, including the earth.

Why Real Learning?
Academia is urban. Academia has high barriers to entry, and low returns to the immediate community. Education is one of the most effective points of leverage in our society (get Amartya Sen source, maybe Development as Freedom). However, the “brain drain” has emptied rural communities in the US and around the world of their young people by drawing them to urban universities in the US and Western Europe, where many of them stay after dropping out or getting a degree.

Taking Back Learning, Taking Back Knowledge:
The Real Learning Movement is taking back the terrain of learning and the terrain of knowledge. We are creating systems for learning-where-people-are (learning-in-place), rather than removing learners from their context and their community.

Renewing the Purpose of Learning:
Transformative action is a primary goal of real learning, and is blatantly absent from the hours of drab classes and dry, impersonal papers of most of the current academy. As I live, I change, and my community changes, and I can be a catalyst of that change — our quality of self-creation is quite fantastic!

What’s subsidiarity and what can it contribute to these thoughts?
Subsidiarity is the principle of placing decision-making power as locally as possible to the effects of the decision. Subsidiarity applied to learning: promote learning that focuses on and changes situations as close as possible to the learner… encourage the flows of knowledge as high up as possible in the knowledge-shed.

A learning system designed with subsidiarity as a principle designs learning as close as possible to the situated learner (a situated learner is a person in community, in context, rather than a person removed from community, perhaps drawn into an age-homogenous university in a town more than walking distance from the person’s home). I write “design learning as close as possible,” but that’s not quite it. Real learning is learning that flows from passion-initiated and community-initiated actions. I design certain practices that enhance the ability of individuals and communities to document their experiences and draw reflections from themselves and each other and thus learn from their experiences. (So what is learning? I will answer that another time). In looking the system this way, I recognize valuable knowledge as locally as possible (rather than claiming that all valuable knowledge is held within the walls of academia). This is the subsidiarity of learning.

Recognizing the value of knowledge gained from experience.

Subsidiarity is sometimes seen as a principle for designing democratic systems [refer to some field of thought as a source]. Perhaps this means that systems of learning built from subsidiarity of…

Ah ha! The decision that is positioned as far upstream as possible in the knowledge-shed is the decision about “What sources shall I draw learning from? How will I decide the value of knowledge from different sources?” Perhaps this is the heart of democratic learning.

Sheds? What’s a knowledge-shed?
I have never heard anyone else use the term “knowledge-shed.” I begin my explanation with an description of “watershed” and “foodshed” since those are the concepts I build from to distinguish a “knowledge-shed.”

A watershed is a geographical area delineated by the flows of water through that area (watersheds are also called “water drainage basins”). High points in a landscape are “water divide lines,” and they are boundaries between watersheds. A foodshed is an area in which food flows from seed to field to table to compost (or to landfill) to field to fruit to mouth, and so on. To map my foodshed, I find out where my food was grown and where it went before it got to my mouth. An elaborate foodshed map might illustrate how food is distributed, who has access to food, what sources of fertilizer are used to grow food and where they come from, and who controls the finances of the food system at each step from seed to mouth.

A knowledge-shed map shows where knowledge is created, where it is acted on, and how it flows from creator to actor. In a vibrant knowledge-shed, the map shows much communication between creators and users of knowledge — even to the level of each person as a maker and user of knowledge. (For more on the self-creative quality of humans, see the book The ABCs of Political Economy. For more on maker/user distinctions, see the book The Whale and the Reactor: A Search for Limits in an Age of High Technology).

Mapping flows (sheds) to define bioregions/ecoregions:
When I map my foodshed and watershed and knowledge-shed and I lay those maps over each other, I begin to see patterns. With those patterns I can distinguish bioregions, also known as ecoregions.

We seem to have wondered from our initial topic…
No, we have not wandered away from the Real Learning Movement. When we reconceptualize learning as an activity of self-creation and transformation, we step towards our future of living consciously and intentionally as integrated members of the community of life (instead of the self-exile from that community that the dominator culture is founded on). Reintegration into the communities of life is a goal of the Real Learning Movement.

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One Response to Real Learning Movement: Subsidiarity for Learning Systems

  1. ellieearly says:

    Patrick! I am referring back to the Real Learning Movement when I feel discouraged about taking small steps in my hometown to become a part of reintegrating communities of life. I feel clarity when i read. What are you writing lately? How is Argentina?

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