Transforming education with The Big Idea

June 15, 2022

Learning can happen anywhere. Nearly everyone knows this to be true. 

And yet, the vast majority of schooling — from kindergarten through twelfth grade — still takes place in a one-size-fits-all approach. Why is that? 

This is a question collaborators at The Big Idea are asking — and they’re inviting others to join them.  

A project of Education Reimagined, The Big Idea is a space for educators, parents, and learners to imagine what the future of learning looks like. In their view, there has never been a more ideal time to transform education.   

As technology advances and the workforce demands a more agile and globally minded worker, foundational schooling should prepare people to meet this new reality.  

“The American K-12 education system is out of date and was designed to serve an imagined ‘average child,’” says Adam Peshek, Senior Fellow at Stand Together Trust. “It was designed for a time that no longer exists,” Peshek says, “a time when it was thought the back of the school should lead to the front door of the factory.” 

We live in the world of individualization, and education needs to catch up. 

Instead of schools, let’s build learning ecosystems 

At the heart of The Big Idea’s learner-centered proposal is the suggestion that a typical school day doesn’t need to take place in a school building in order to be effective.  

Ecosystems of learning, as The Big Idea calls them, could connect young people to learning experiences across their communities, allowing them to experience in real time how their unique gifts contribute to fostering a healthy society. 

Students would begin their days at a home base, where they work with advisors to set their learning goals and pathways and build relationships with peers of all ages. From their home base, students may have learning experiences at field sites, internships or jobs, and service learning.  

Learners move through this learning ecosystem according to their unique journey, and in ways appropriate to their stage of development and maturity. 

“In this way, young people are finding community and belonging, building their social capital, discovering what lifts them up, contributing their gifts to real community challenges, and developing their literacy in mathematics, language, history, and science,” says Kelly Young, president of Education Reimagined. “This vision of ecosystems may be radically different than what exists today, but it is not radical.” 

Consider La Luz Education. A mobile middle school founded by a former school principal, students learn through interactive experiences like projects, field work, or service in their communities.  

“We want middle schoolers to thrive, not just survive,” said Alfredo Cervantes, a science teacher with La Luz. He holds a bachelor’s degree in molecular biology and a master’s in medical science.  

“The traditional middle school setup and curriculum is lacking so much of what this age group needs,” said Kyla Gamba, a former public-school principal and founder of La Luz. He told VELA Education Fund, one of La Luz’s funders, that “I wanted to create something better, something that gave kids a safe and engaging learning experience outside of the classroom.” 

If this sounds idealistic, and perhaps out of reach for every student, well, that’s kind of the point of The Big Idea.  

“This will take just as much inventing, as it will listening and learning,” the team at The Big Idea write. “To and from the children, families, and communities these ecosystems will serve. To and from those who have been creating equitable, powerful learning experiences in and out of the public system for decades, if not centuries.”  

And that’s why they launched The Big Idea. 

Transforming education with community help 

The leaders and innovators of The Big Idea want to spark conversations and collaboration. They want to see what might work, what’s already working, and what it might take to make even more individualized ecosystems of learning work.  

“Since most people are familiar and sentimental about our traditional school-based education system, we need to show them what is possible with real-life examples of students learning in community-based and eco-system models,” says Lisa Snell, Senior Education Fellow at Stand Together Trust. “The Big Idea project takes people on a journey of understanding and moves us toward a paradigm shift where education is customized to meet the individual needs of students and students are active participants in what and how they learn. This shifts the purpose of education to help students reach their potential based on their own interests and capabilities.” 

Embedded in the Big Idea’s website are video vignettes that offer fictional, yet realistic visions of how learning ecosystems might work in a suburban, urban, and rural setting.  

Educators, parents, learners, and anyone interested in transforming education today can learn more, offer ideas, and spark more conversations.  

That’s why The Big Idea has a conversation guide with prompts for people to use when talking with neighbors, community leaders, and others who could help to build an ecosystem of learning in their area.  

Because one of the best ways to see what is possible is to just start talking. Transformation in education is possible, and there has never been a better time for it. You’re invited to join the conversation at