This is a time of year for looking back and looking ahead. So, as we reflect and predict, let’s look at learning through a different lens.

Educational institutions love acronyms, so here’s one: IF.



What IF, just for a moment, we forgot everything we thought we knew about education research, and instead based everything students do in school on imagination and faith?

“You see things; and you say ‘Why?’ But I dream things that never were; and I say ‘Why not?’”

-George Bernard Shaw

It’s not an unreasonable question. Rather than quantifying or coding data in an effort to superimpose theoretical order on practical chaos, let’s take a moment to reconnect with everything that makes learning attractive and inspiring in the first place.


Close your eyes. Well, first finish reading this section. Then close your eyes.

When you do, think of all the reasons you can’t do exactly what you want right now in teaching, learning, and/or life. Not enough time, money, or autonomy?

Whatever your reasons, envision the words as they appear on a surface. Maybe it’s a clean white piece of paper being spit out of a printer. It’s your image, so it’s your choice. Is it laser or dot matrix? Maybe it’s linen paper on the roll of a typewriter – electric, or an even older model whose keys you hammer down to make the strikers jump up and slap the page, letter by letter. Maybe the words are handwritten on the page of a journal, or on the back of a junk mail envelope from a life insurance company. Or in bright blue block letters on a yellow legal pad.

Visualize the list. Then obliterate it. Crumple it up. Tear it to pieces. Shred it. Put it in a wood chipper. Douse the pieces in gasoline and set them ablaze. Hold a Viking or New Orleans funeral. Send the ashes out to sea.

Does the list feel bigger than a piece of paper? More permanent? Harder to destroy? Do what you gotta do. You are the almighty god of your imagination and you need the space. Picture the list as graffiti on the wall of a big building or a cave – then wire up enough TNT or C-4 to blow it all to shit. If the list is written in the sky, bring the hurricane. Blow up its home planet with the death star. Get the picture?

When the smoke clears, you have the magic wand. You have everything you need. You can do exactly what you want.

What does that look like?


Faith, as I understand it, means believing in something which we have no empirical reason to believe.

Believing in learning requires us to believe in ourselves. We must develop our own internal capacity for acquiring, analyzing, evaluating, remembering, synthesizing, and using information to help us understand increasingly complex concepts and skills.

Believing in learning also requires us to believe in each other. When a teacher sees a student gazing off into middle distance, why assume “daydreamer needs intervention” instead of “deep thinker engaged with interesting idea”?

In practice, trust is a straightforward proposition. We can simply decide to think the best of ourselves and each other, all the time, no matter what. That would be a powerful act of faith.

Imagine policies and campuses designed around the idea that human nature is fundamentally good.

Q: Some of these beliefs seem like necessary precursors to action, so why didn’t I start this post with faith instead of imagination?

A: Because “FI only” is a stupid title.


Over the next few months we will continue to blow the pandemic response and things will get worse before they get better. Some campuses will open in January, some will not, and the overall lack of imagination and faith in learning will continue to poison schooling.

Those of us who stay healthy and focused will continue to innovate. The Open-Source Learning Academy will complete its first full academic year in June and graduates will thrive.

We’re not going to rest there. Technology is evolving and so are we.

My next blog post, the first of 2022, will be all about how Web3 can change the organizational, economic, and social worlds of learning forever.