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Monday, March 06, 2006

E-Learning in 2016: Unschooling, Deschooling, and Unlearning?


In this post, I respond to Tama's E-Learning Blog and the query, What will E-Learning Look Like in 2016? I think it will be completely different in terms of delivery, and there will be more rigidly defined camps with respect to instructional design & ideal structure of course content. I believe that utopian experiments and the "unschooling" movement will take off in a big way.

For those of you who are interested, Tama's E-Learning Blog is located here: Tama is Tama Leaver, who is working at the University of Western Australia, where he is involved in research in the future (as well as the past and present) of teaching and learning.


What we now call smartphones will be highly evolved. Think of early calculators vs. today’s calculators… more power, lower price.

So, more individuals will be taking courses with mobile devices, and they will expect audio, video, and text.


1. “New Traditionalists” == templated courses, all with same look & feel, clearly defined elements (outcomes, goals, assessment, course content, types of activities)

2. Multiplayer Serious Games and Sims == Simulations, serious games — a heavy emphasis on immersion-type learning that focuses on the application of knowledge to realistic situations; multi-player results in a focus on social learning. Drawback — because this is so highly culturally inflected, as well as dependent on fast connections & latest technologies, it will appeal to some learners more than others.

3. “Unlearning” == this is going to be HUGE in the future as a backlash forms in response to what is considered to be a rigidity of course content, delivery, and organization.


Deschooling, Unschooling, Unlearning: There is a growing resistance to what are considered to be the artificial strictures and measures of traditional school. According to Matt Hern in Deschooling Our Lives, the effects of traditional schooling are corrosive. We learn more when we are free from rigid assessments, standards, and schedules.

But, does anyone learn anything in a completely unstructured environment? What are some of the most famous "deschooling" schools?

The Sudbury Valley School ( was founded in 1968. Located in Framingham, Massachusetts, the school offers unstructured, mentored education for children from ages 7 - 19. Formed around the structure of a New England town meeting, the guiding principles are voted on in a democratic way. There are no schedules, no requirements, and no required curriculum. There are no assessments.

It's utopian. It has also inspired an entire host of similarly shaped schools, located throughout the world.

It's intriguing, but I have some questions: What do the children actually learn? What are they like when they graduate? Are educators accountable for the outcomes? How many go on to college?

The Blue Ridge Discovery School, located in Lynchburg, Virginia, follows the Sudbury model. They emphasize creating an environment that fosters creativity and curiosity, and whets the desire for discovery. The photos show happy children who seem very engaged in the process of exploring their world. I am reminded of the ideas of John Dewey, who urged individuals to participate in social and experiential learning.

Daniel Greenberg's Free At Last describes the experience of working with children who became captivated by a topic and worked feverishly, with absolute passion, to learn all they could about it.

Achievement tests at The Circle School, a 'democratic' or "discovery" school are quite impressive. I'm not sure they completely allay my misapprehensions, though.

The Sego Lily School focuses on passion, play, and responsibility. Located in Utah, the school emphasizes acceptance of individual difference, and it encourages students to play and to explore.

From a cognitive point of view, "unschooling" seems to build education on the development of self-efficacy through self-determination. Bandura (1994) has written extensively on the positive impact that results when a person believes that they are capable of doing what is needed to successfully accomplish a task.

Self-determination is fostered through choice and the freedom to align one's interests with their activities.

On a theoretical basis, "unschooling" could work.

I'd really like to explore it more in-depth.

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