I love learning.
Since 1992 I’ve led K-12 and university courses, professional trainings, and organizational change initiatives all over the world.
School & Early Career
I’ve always been in the light bulb business. I began studying learning and education — two very different things — when I was a student. Attending public schools in Los Angeles led me to 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 on the human (read: abstract, subjective, often murky) aspects of organizational development such as strategy, succession planning, conflict management, team building, and leadership.
My Own Light Bulb Moment
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 education’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.
School’s social contract is broken. Graduates no longer expect to live as well as their parents. Many graduates return home to live with their parents. They can’t afford to launch economically independent lives of their own.
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 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. I looked forward to getting back to the world of the living and sharing my “domestic Peace Corps” experience. I thought it might help improve conditions for students and teachers everywhere.
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 quickly was derailed when Zolzaya Damdinsuren walked into my classroom 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 learning 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 behind an IHOP). I continued using online tools and techniques to bring the world to my students and my students to the world.
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.
I continue to do this work for the same reason Victor Hugo wrote Les Misérables. Students and educators everywhere 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 leave 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.
Today I am learning out loud more than ever. It’s exciting to see the positive impact Open-Source Learning has on my family, my students, clients, and speaking audiences, and the many collaborators all over the world with whom I’m so fortunate to work. I love sharing principles, strategies, and practices that everyone can use to create positive change and achieve value through learning.
I’ve written ACADEMY OF ONE, a book on Open-Source Learning that I hope will raise awareness and start conversations. I have developed free, open source software to support the Open-Source Learning Academy. In 2023 I am launching the Open-Source Learning Network to provide avirtual community where educators can learn and collaborate. Meanwhile, I continue refining and sharing my own practice. In addition to speaking, consulting, teaching online, and helping others apply Open-Source Learning, I still walk the walk in my service to California high school students. And I learn something new every day.