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The Time is Right for Life-wide Learning

I was sitting in Dr. Helen Barrett's ePortfolio workshop at ISTE-13 contemplating how I was going to introduce and support digital portfolios with my faculty and their students. We are in the midst of a 1:1 roll-out with iPads, and also integrating GoogleApps. Yes, I know - square pegs, round holes. Thus, the extra-contemplative look on my face. About the time that Dr. Barrett was going to start to ignore my rapid fire hand-raising, she unleashes the "one great thing" on me. You know, you hope to pull "one great thing" from the sessions that you attend at a conference. This "one great thing"- life-wide learning.


"Hold on a second Dr. B.!  Please tell us more about this life-wide learning.", I said without trying to sound bossy.

Since growth mindset and lifelong learning are at the core of my personal philosophy, it was fitting that the phrase "life-wide learning" caught my attention and prompted me to seek more information.

What is Life-wide Learning?

Initially popularized in Hong Kong and the United Kingdom, life-wide learning is experiential and takes place in authentic settings, or in real contexts. With a "whole person" focus, and an emphasis on personal interests and activities, LWL brings in lifelong learning supports that are not typically part of the traditional classroom. Life-wide learning blends the learner's "outside the classroom" spaces, interests, activities, and relationships, into a self-actualizing, whole person, learning salad. Connected technologies and social media are the perfect tools for bringing outside spaces, interests, and activities into the "formal" learning environment. The traditional concept of classroom seems limiting, doesn't it?

For example, Cindy collects sea-turtle figurines, she has a particular interest marine biology. A family vacation to Florida included an opportunity for Cindy to volunteer at a marine wildlife rehabilitation center. She used Twitter and Instagram to document and share her turtle-saving adventures. Cindy's teachers recognized her passion for marine biology and provided an opportunity, called Genius Hour, so Cindy could study sea turtles. She wondered (inquiry) why Green Sea Turtles were endangered, and she recognized that hatchlings were hampered by human traffic on their way from nest to open water. She worked with foundations and political organizations to raise awareness and implement solutions to this problem (PBL). All the while, Cindy maintained a digital portfolio documenting her learning, reflecting upon her progress, and sharing results with an authentic world-wide audience. Cindy made her learning personal, and purposeful. Do you think that she needs a letter grade for motivation, appreciation, or ranking? (I will save this for another post.)




Why is this the right time for life-wide learning?

Conscientious teachers are looking for ways to make classroom activities more engaging and meaningful for their students. Life-wide learning gives teachers opportunities to learn more about their students. It provides a means for relationship building, collaboration with parents, and most importantly, the opportunity to develop individually responsible, connected learners.
  • LWL supports Genius Hour / 20% Time, Passion-based Learning.
  • LWL engages parents and other supportive adults into the learning processes.
  • LWL supports project-based, problem-based, inquiry-based, and challenged-based pedagogies.
  • LWL supports authentic learning experiences shared with authentic audiences.
  • LWL supports the use of current technologies to bring outside "learnings" into the classroom, and for learners to share their learning with connected networks.
  • LWL supports the notion that learning is inherently meaningful when it is personally generated.
  • LWL sets the stage for lifelong learning by giving students the opportunity to acknowledge and integrate their informal learning experiences into the formal curriculum.
  • LWL prepares students for the "real world" because it IS their real world.

How can life-wide learning be supported in the classroom?

Life-wide learning can become part of the teaching pedagogy by making the classroom student-centered. Flip the traditional classroom roles - teachers become learners, learners become instructors. Allow time for students to share their interests, hobbies, and subjects that they are passionate about. Communicate with parents and supportive adults informing them of this concept and how they can support learning from "outside the classroom". Provide access to connected technologies that will allow students to meld outside learnings with classroom learning objectives and skills. Build relationships with students by sharing learning experiences and modeling appropriate, effective sharing with them. Realize that learning can be noisy and messy - not many problems are solved in the first attempt. Grit and resiliency are important traits to acquire along the road of lifelong learning.


Finally, this U.S. Department of Education graphic illustrates that such a small portion of our learning experience falls under the realm of "formal" classroom instruction, and that informal learning expands as we age. It seems logical that we should introduce and embrace life-wide learning with students in order to prepare them for a future dominated by "informal" learning.



If we, as educators, value lifelong learning, then we must incorporate life-wide learning into our teaching paradigm. I say the time is right for this. What do you think?


Do you want to learn more about life-wide learning?


Life-wide Learning in Detail - Education Bureau of Hong Kong


photo credit: Wonderlane via photopin cc

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