Learning & Design: Opening Plan

For the correct analogy for the mind is not a vessel that needs filling but wood that needs igniting no more and then it motivates one towards originality and instills the desire for truth. Suppose someone were to go and ask his neighbors for fire and find a substantial blaze there, and just stay there continually warming himself: that is no different from someone who goes to someone else to get to some of his rationality, and fails to realize that he ought to ignite his own flame, his own intellect, but is happy to sit entranced by the lecture, and the words trigger only associative thinking and bring, as it were, only a flush to his cheeks and a glow to his limbs; but he has not dispelled or dispersed, in the warm light of philosophy, the internal dank gloom of his mind.

Plutarch, On Listening to Lectures (1927)


The problems of education are wide and varied. With every new generation, new technology, new paradigm the content of education shifts to accommodate the new knowledge and new needs. By studying the history of education, we can examine the “evolving American conceptions of education in itself” (Kett, 1995, xviii). The task of addressing these shifting needs grows every more challenging in a more and more pluralist society there are more and more conflicting moral and political theories of education (Gutmann, 1999; Berner 2017).

One of the most pressing concerns in education today is outlined in Robot-Proof, by Joseph Aoun. He recognizes that “education is its own reward, equipping us with the mental furnishings to live a rich, considered existence” (p.xvii), but lays out his project to address the other hydra head of this issue, the question of “How should [educational institutions] be preparing people for this fast-changing world? How should education be used to help people in the professional and economic spheres? (p.xv)”

From these two, contrasting statements, we can see there is dual nature to expectations of education. Firstly, education promises a kind of development for the learner that is valuable for its own sake. Formal education is for exposure to possibilities and to greatness. Oakeshott writes in The Voice of Liberal Learning,

“Each of us is born in a corner of the earth and at a particular moment in historic time, lapped round with locality. But school and university are places apart where a declared learner is emancipated from the limitations of his local circumstances and from the wants he may happen to have acquired, and is moved by intimations of what he has never yet dreamed. He finds himself invited to pursue satisfactions he has never yet imagined or wished for. They are, then, sheltered places where excellences may be heard because the din of local partialities is no more than a distant rumble. They are places where a learner is initiated into what there is to be learned.” (2002, p. 13)

The special kind of self-development that enables us to live a “rich, considered existence,” as Aoun mentions above, requires a special place of learning dedicated to that development whose characteristics are somewhat timeless.

Secondly, however, formal education is also for training to become “professionals but also creatives.” (Aoun, p.xvi). Human flourishing is both material and spiritual, physical and mental. We cannot live rich and considered lives unless we can feed, clothe and house ourselves. And part of a good life is making meaningful contributions to one’s world through the work one does. But how are we to best equip people to fit into, and make meaningful contributions to, an economic world that is in constant flux?

My interests marry both of these goals together. The project of education in the most general terms is to to support human flourishing. And the problems of education implied by this goal, in my understanding, can be encompassed by the question, what are the educational models that prepare students for freedom?

What does human flourishing have to do with a free society? The environment of a free society raises the problems and provides the opportunities inherent in the two goals above. First, a free society is a learning society. It is a society of open-ended experimentation, diversity, toleration, and exploration. Such a society is, therefore, a society of continual, and potentially rapid, open-ended change to which we must constantly adapt. But it is also the kind of society that generates the opportunity to develop rich and considered lives through the prosperity and opportunity it provides.

Setting Out

As the headquote to this paper suggests, a society of free, capable, and independent people cannot rest on a mere acquaintance with facts generated and conveyed by others. The members of a sustainably free and responsible society must embody certain attitudes and habits, or virtues, conducive to freedom, including initiative and responsibility. As Aristotle argued, cannot be acquired through passive listening. They must be acquired actively. They must be acquired through practice. The appropriate learning environment to prepare people to thrive in a free society, must, therefore, involve students in the practice of the virtues conducive to such a society.

My research question in this program is, thus, how can we foster environments that enable, not just an acquaintance with ideas, but the practice of virtues and the development of the character that allows for peaceful human flourishing? In short, what is the pedagogy of a free society?

My claim is that the foundations of a free society and self-governance cannot be truly learned outside an experience of them. Yet, most classrooms and schools are built on industrial models (Aoun, 2017, p.11), encouraging conformity and acculturation to authoritarian social orders (Chamlee-Wright, 2015, p.19). The pedagogy, content and culture of the vast majority of educational environments give students no opportunity to practice the virtues of civil society, and in many cases actively discourages the cultivation of these most important traits. In her book, Pluralism and American Education: No One Way to School, Berner explores the idea that “Sociologists sometimes call the tacit moral messages of the classroom “the hidden curriculum.” The hidden curriculum is the “routine, embedded practices of classroom life that shape children’s orientations in ways that are consistent with the demands of adult life.” This curriculum “directs students’ attention through invisible means, rather than through overt and explicit instruction.”” (2017, Kindle)

One of the main modes or methods for addressing the fundamental problem of education for a free society, therefore, is to look at the hidden curriculum conducive to free and responsible learning. What is the best way to design education to foster micro-societies that model the norms and institutions of a free society? A foundation of an education that prepares students to uphold, and flourish in, a free society? As with adults, I believe students who experience freedom, autonomy, and responsibility directly become more engaged, interested, and enthusiastic learners and more readily adopt the ideas and virtues of freedom.

In his book “Creating Cultures of Thinking” (2015) Ritchhart challenges that “if culture is the key to transformation, then we must understand how group culture is created, sustained, and enhanced” (p. 6) It will be a theme of my research to better understand the eight major cultural forces, namely, expectation, language, time, modeling, opportunities, routines, interactions, and environment, and how to design with and orientation to a culture of a free society.

“Conventional pedagogy is essentially ideas about teaching disconnected from ideas about learning” (Christensen, 1997, xiii).” So what is the pedagogy of freedom and how is it distinct from conventional pedagogy? Maria Montessori in her book Education and Peace said, individual freedom was the basis of education and that the freedom must come first. As a Montessori trained teacher, I intend to draw heavily on Montessori’s writings and the curriculums and systems she built, especially cultural and curricular paradigms, to try to answer how best to foster cultures that understand and support this kind of individual freedom for our age.

We must create cultures of learning that understand that “multiple perspectives are an asset—not a hindrance—to democratic thinking, participation and governance” (Hess, 2009, p.77). That recognize this the from Mill, that by silencing expression we are robbing the human race” (2016, p.20) and doing a disservice to truth.

One path I intend to explore in pursuing these questions is to radically shift the center of learning, from expert-centered to the “liberal classroom.” “Liberal education proceeds from fundamentally different assumptions about the educational process” (Chamlee-Wright, 2015, p.23). “Liberal educators see the…classroom as a locus of knowledge production, not merely a site for the redistribution of expert knowledge produced elsewhere. Without effacing the hierarchies of knowledge and authority between instructor and student (highlighted  in Figure 1.2 by the relative sizes of the “Instructor” and “Student” circles), all parties in the liberal classroom act as knowers” (Chamlee-Wright, 2015, p.24)


I am very interested in how to create educational environments that shift from teacher-directed learning to student-directed learning? (See Table 1.1)



What is my plan of study to work towards contributing to the pedagogy of a free society? As a part-time student at the MLD I plan to focus on Learning Design with a heavy emphasis of Learning Analytics.

Fall 2018

LDES-500: Integrated Introduction to the Field (2 credits)

LDES-501: Methods of Learning and Design (3 credits)

Design Studio (1 credit)

Spring 2018

LDES-502 Technology and Innovation By Design (3 credits)

LDES-503 Designing the Future(s) of the University (3 credits)

Design Studio (2 credits)

Summer 2018

LDES-504 Learning Analytics (3 credits)

Fall 2019

LDES-612: Mapping the Curriculum (3 credits)

LDES-684: Digital Learning (3 credits)

Design Studio (2 credits)

Elective (3 credits)

Spring 2019

Elective (3 credits)

LDES-628: Ethics by Design (3 credits)

Capstone Project

My capstone project will be a competency-based micro-credentialing project through my work. We have already secured funding and will be launching this product over the next two years. This will allow me to take and apply all of my learnings immediately and meaningfully to influence educator professional development nationwide.

In this micro-credentials program, educators  will work through curricular sequences that address the three major educational components that orient student to freedom: The modes of instruction(Pedagogy), the content of instruction(Content)and the social interaction in the classroom (Classroom Culture). Through online coursework and then in-person conferences,  educators will explore educational pedagogy in the individualist tradition under the guidance of experienced master facilitators, learning classroom ready techniques to engage their students in the mode of a free society.Education for Self-Governance would introduce self-directed learning, Socratic education, and the framework of a free society. Additionally, it will offer practical and hands-on training specific to partner schools,

“In the current crossroads of needs and demands, competency-connection based education represents a two-fold disruption in the achievement of credentials: The curriculum architecture defines achievements through a well-known and accepted framework of skills abilities, skills, and knowledge with a direct association to evidence-based assessments, while the learner support system is construed in such a way that allows students to progress at their own pace with personalized and timely feedback to ensure their success aligns to individual needs” (Muilenberg, 2016, p.36)


In my application to this program I wrote, “The 21st century requires people who can learn from and teach others in order to thrive. What this program will teach me, I’ll be able to share with hundreds of thousands of educators in my lifetime. This is how I hope to contribute to the world.” The 21st century requires people who can learn from and teach others in order to thrive. What this program will teach me, I’ll be able to share with hundreds of thousands of educators in my lifetime. This is how I hope to contribute to the world.” Thank you for this opportunity to learn with you. “This, then, is what we are concerned with: adventures in human self-understanding.” (Oakeshott, 2002, p. 15)


Aoun, J. E. (2017). Robot-proof: Higher education in the age of artificial intelligence. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press.

Berge, Z. L., & Muilenburg, L. Y. (2016). Digital badges in education: Trends, issues, and cases. Place of publication not identified: Routledge.

Berner, A. R. (2017). Pluralism and American public education: No one way to school(Palgrave MacMillan: Education Policy) (L. D. Fusarelli, F. M. Hess, & M. West, Eds.) [Kindle Edition].

Chamlee-Wright, E. (Ed.). (2015). Liberal learning and the art of self-governance(Routledge Frontiers of Political Economy). London: Routledge.

Christensen, C. R., & Sweet, A. (1997). Education for judgement: The artistry of discussion leadership(C. R. Christensen & D. A. Garvin, Eds.). Boston: Harvard Business School Press.

Dirksen, J. (2016). Design for how people learn(2nd ed.). San Francisco: New Riders.

Freire, P. (2001). Pedagogy of freedom: Ethics, democracy, and civic courage. Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield.

Gibbons, M. (2002). The self-directed learning handbook: Challenging adolescent students to excel. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Gutmann, A. (1999). Democratic education. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Hess, D. E. (2009). Controversy in the classroom: The democratic power of discussion(Routledge Critical Social Thought). New York: Routledge.

Home – Master of Arts in Learning & Design – Georgetown University. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://learninganddesign.georgetown.edu/

Illich, I. (1972). Deschooling society. New York: Harper and Row.

Kett, J. F. (1995). The pursuit of knowledge under difficulties: From self-improvement to adult education in America, 1750-1990. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.

Mill, J. S. (2016). On liberty ; with The subjection of women ; and Chapters on socialism(Cambridge Texts in the History of Political Thought) (S. Collini, Ed.). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Montessori, M. (2004). Education and peace(Clio Montessori) (H. R. Lane, Trans.). Oxford: Clio Press.

  1. (1927). Moralia, On Listening to Lectures (F. C. Babbit, Trans.). Retrieved from http://penelope.uchicago.edu/Thayer/E/Roman/Texts/Plutarch/Moralia/De_auditu*.html

Oakeshott, M. J. (2002). The voice of liberal learning. Indianapolis, IN: Liberty Fund.

Ritchhart, R. (2015). Creating cultures of thinking: The 8 forces we must master to truly transform our schools. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass & Pfeiffer Imprints, Wiley.

E., & Heath, T. L. (1956). The thirteen books of Euclids Elements(J. L. Heiberg, Trans.). Retrieved from https://ia802205.us.archive.org/14/items/euclid_heath_2nd_ed/1_euclid_heath_2nd_ed.pdf


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