I love learning, and I love helping people.
Since 1992 I have consulted for organizations, I have taught at UCLA and in California high schools, and I have led professional trainings and change initiatives all over the world.
School & Early Career
I began studying learning as a student. I attended public schools in Los Angeles and UCLA, where I completed a B.A. in Communication Studies, a master’s degree in Teacher Education, and a Ph.D. in Education Policy & Organizational Management. I went on to teach at UCLA for 11 years and lead a Los Angeles-based management consulting practice. I advised clients based on my research in the human (read: abstract, subjective, often murky) aspects of organizational development such as strategy, succession planning, conflict management, team building, leadership, and perception of time.
My Own Light Bulb Moment
Even though I’d been in the “light bulb business” for years, I had my own “aha!” moment a few years after 9/11. Many of my consulting clients and university students confided that they had to unlearn and actually recover from their K-12 schooling in order to thrive. The way the institution was designed just doesn’t align with today’s world. In school, we’re told to put away our devices, be quiet, and keep our eyes on our own papers. At work, our colleagues want to know why we can’t be better team players. As adults, we frantically try to figure out our own minds, bodies, communities, economies, environments, and technologies.
For a long time we tolerated school’s shortcomings and the growing disconnect between school and life after graduation. Generations of parents told their children to deal with it in order to “build character” and get that diploma, the ticket to the good life.
But the social contract has been broken. Today’s graduates no longer expect to live as well as their parents. Many return home to live with their parents because they can’t launch economically independent lives of their own.
Since we have no idea what the economic, political, or environmental landscape will look like when today’s students graduate, We owe it to the next generation to adapt our education and business practices. We must meet their needs as they face an increasingly complex and uncertain future.
Shortly after 9/11 I began seeking out ways to more actively participate in that process. In 2004, I accepted an invitation to teach high school courses in America’s fifth-largest high school in Los Angeles. At first I planned to teach for a year or two. It was a great experience! I used technology to disrupt the curriculum and the classroom. I got an up-close view of the bizarro bureaucracy of public education. At the time, I looked forward to getting back to the world of the living and sharing my “domestic Peace Corps” experience. I thought sharing my experience might help improve things.
Man Plans God Laughs
You know an idea is universally wise when Public Enemy names an album after a Yiddish proverb.
My plan to leave the classroom on time was derailed when Zolzaya Damdinsuren walked into a sweaty trailer full of summer school students carrying The Art of Happiness by the
Dalai Lama. In that moment my life became stranger than fiction. If you and I get to know each other well enough, I’ll tell you the whole story, which eventually took me to Zolzaya’s family home in Mongolia, as well as China and Tibet. The experience changed my life and rang bells I will never unring.
When I returned from Asia, I told my consulting team and my clients that I wanted to continue teaching. I accepted a position in the English department at a high school on California’s Central Coast. In the evenings I supervised an administrative credential program and taught master’s degree courses at a satellite campus of a university. (If universities are “ivory towers,” this was an ivory strip mall – literally – between a highway offramp and an IHOP that had 2 minutes of fame in the movie Sideways). I continued using online tools and techniques to bring the world to my students and my students to the world. This was my Sinatra phase: if I could do it there, I could do it anywhere.)
In 2009 I coined the term “Open-Source Learning” to describe my practice. I defined it as a teaching philosophy that “empowers students to work in partnership with their teachers and expand their networks beyond classroom walls to develop personally meaningful learning experiences that can be shared with everyone to create immediate value.”
Sharing Open-Source Learning
In 2011, I introduced “The Open-Source School” at the Institute for the Future in Palo Alto, CA. Since then, I’ve presented Open-Source Learning concepts and use cases at gatherings such as the MacArthur Foundation Digital Media & Learning Conference, the Connected Learning Summit at M.I.T., the Annual Conference of the Royal Geographical Society in London, the Computer Users in Education conference, The O’Reilly Open Source Conference, TEDxUCLA, and many others.
A Cruel Opportunity
On Friday, March 13, 2020, I told students in my Santa Maria High School classroom to take their journals home with them. The coronavirus pandemic was becoming more of a concern and we didn’t yet know whether campus would be open the following week (we never did go back). But unlike everything else I’ve heard and read about schooling during the pandemic, when I asked students what would change, they all answered in unison: “Nothing!”
We all had our websites. We all had our online and IRL routines. We had 50 zoom meetings by June. We didn’t even take off for Spring Break.
I wrote a white paper for the school district and created a 100% virtual, interdisciplinary Open-Source Learning Academy. I moved from a faculty role to a consulting role so that I could work with multiple organizations facing these same issues and opportunities.
Now that I’m back in consulting full-time, I continue to do this work for the same reason Victor Hugo wrote Les Misérables. People are suffering. Everyone in school still has to comply with rules and standards that often work directly against their learning and well-being. These effects intensified during the pandemic. More and more teachers are leaving the profession. Too many young people graduate school without a healthy approach to living. Or a working understanding of the internet, or conflict, or critical thinking. Or interdisciplinary principles that will empower them to solve problems and identify opportunities.
Meanwhile, employers and organizations of all kinds are facing familiar challenges in conditions that are increasingly complicated and uncertain.
It’s exciting to see the positive impact Open-Source Learning has had. I love sharing principles, strategies, and practices that everyone can use to create positive change and achieve value through learning.
I am writing several books on the subject – the first, ACADEMY OF ONE, was published by Rowman and Littlefield (2021). I have also launched the Open-Source Learning Network to provide a virtual community for any organization that wants to amplify and accelerate their members’ connection, learning, and collaboration. And I have continued my consulting and speaking practices.
I’m concerned about the ways we learn, communicate, and work together. Our politics, our economy, and our physical environment won’t fix themselves. My students, colleagues, and clients have proven that we can make a difference, and I look forward to sharing a winning strategy with you. Please schedule a meeting with me if I can be of service.