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Jay Lemke is Professor Emeritus at the City University of New York. He has also been Professor in the PhD Programs in Science Education, Learning Technologies, and Literacy Language and Culture at the University of Michigan (Ann Arbor) and most recently adjunct Professor in Communication at the University of California - San Diego and Senior Research Scientist in the Laboratory for Comparative Human Cognition (LCHC). Professor Lemke's research investigates multimedia communication, learning, and emotion in the context of social and cultural change.

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We Need ChangeLabs for Learning!

Let’s bring researchers, designers, and learners together to re-imagine how to support learning in the 21st century.

Call them Change Labs, Design Studios, or Social Innovation Incubators, there’s a new way to make a better world. Everywhere today the model of Design Research is being used to promote innovation not just in products and services, but in cities and social institutions. Here’s the recipe: bring together the people who use the services with people who know how to make them better and create prototypes whose successes and failures can teach us what we can’t imagine.

Mindlab, Denmark

Complex adaptive system theory, simulation modeling, big-data research, in-depth local ethnographies of use, rapid prototyping, distributed intelligence, iterative-participatory design cycles – a perfect storm of innovation tools for the perfect mess of wicked problems our fast-change lives present us with.

And one wicked problem in particular: How do we re-imagine a social support system for learning that can do a better job than today’s failing schools and tradition-bound universities?

Kids in school are bored, smart kids don’t feel challenged, kids with problems are warehoused. Our one-size-fits-all curriculum doesn’t fit any world they will be living in. Students in universities spend four years getting deeply into debt meeting requirements for degrees that don’t get updated even once-a-decade. We separate the learning of science, mathematics, computer tools, and social issues from each other, re-creating the silos that hamper creative innovation. We teach politically safe literature when kids want to create their own, controversial media. Schools and universities both educate for the slow-changing world that spawned them, not the fast-changing one that’s about to test our best survival skills.

We can do better. We can identify who needs to be at the table, in the studio, on the net, listening, thinking, talking, playing, creating, critiquing, prototyping, evaluating, improving, innovating. They’re the people who know by experience just how bad things are. We need the people who can say what they need. And the people who know how to mobilize relevant research. The people who want to create and innovate to make a better learning system. The people with experience in bringing other people together to design better futures. The whole-system mix.

We can determine how such a change lab would work. How big or small should it be. Both locally and face-to-face and also networked and distributed in space and time.  We can generate its first new prototypes. We can propose the design brief it should start from. And we can start more than one.

Organizations, governments, and corporations need to realize that it doesn’t make sense to imagine more innovative communities, smarter cities, or better services without solving the problems of how to support the learning people will need to live productively in these challenging new worlds. Everyone recognizes that learning is the foundation for all the futures we want. Everyone knows that the education systems we have now are falling further and further behind people’s real needs.

We need ChangeLabs for learning, and we need them NOW!

Institute without Boundaries, Toronto 




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