Frequently Asked Questions

The work to create and enact community-based, learner-centered ecosystems is just beginning. As we ignite the R&D to invent an ecosystem approach to public education, there is much to be discovered.

Below we address some of the questions we’ve heard so far.

What do you mean by learner-centered ecosystem?

Community-based, learner-centered ecosystems are reconceived public education system designs that are emerging across the nation. In this design, K–12 learning is shaped, distributed and networked throughout communities, versus set in singular school buildings. Young people craft and navigate their learning journeys through meaningful collaboration with professionals who support them, as well as their peers, families, and invested community members. These learning experiences leverage the assets, insights and expertise of a wide variety of organizations and people. They prioritize learning that is tangible, rooted in context and intrinsically tied to each young person’s interests, aspirations and personal relevance.

Is an ecosystem just a different way to do school?

We are reconceiving public education as learner-centered ecosystems.

An ecosystem of learning is not just a school or district that has after-school programs and other services tacked onto it. It isn’t even just a more connected network of after- and out-of-school experiences that families can tap into during non-school hours. It is actually about reframing what public education could look like in our country.

How does an ecosystem address equity?

Ecosystems can and must address equity in profoundly different and more direct ways than our current system was ever designed to do.

Through very intentional, inclusive work in the invention and implementation of an ecosystem’s infrastructure, we can best ensure equitable access and experience for learners. This will require that we confront the inequities and biases that pervade our society, directly addressing how new systems will interrupt those unacceptable cycles and centering the needs, priorities, and dreams of those who have been most marginalized and excluded by the current system.

Ecosystems, by design, intentionally lift up the voices and experiences of learners, their families, and the community in a shared quest for collective wellbeing and thriving. They distribute learning throughout the community, enabling each child to discover their unique gifts, co-create their learning journeys, make meaningful relationships, and find belonging. To do this, ecosystems redesign existing structures and create new ways of organizing, supporting, resourcing, and credentialing learning that purposefully redistribute power and rely on co-creation, responsive practices, and dynamic ongoing accountability mechanisms. Pursuit of educational equity is not just a lofty ideal but an actionable reality that spans every layer of the ecosystem.

Ultimately, ecosystems of learning offer the opportunity for a breakthrough in creating equity within our education systems and in mitigating the inequities coming from outside those systems that impact our youth.

What does a learning ecosystem look like?

Each child’s educational experience is intentionally designed as an ongoing learning journey to enable the full spectrum of:

  • identity, belonging, relationship and social capital development,  
  • vigorous academic learning and skill-building in meaningful and interesting contexts, and
  • real-world learning to explore, discover and apply concepts against projects and experiences of meaning and interest to each learner.

The ecosystem integrates three types of learning environments that are purposefully interconnected into each child’s learning journey:

  • Home Bases are safe spaces that serve as anchors for learners, peers and advisors to build deep, stable relationships over time, set goals and navigate learning journeys;
  • Learning Hubs are dedicated spaces that live across the community—such as libraries, schools, colleges, museums, arts centers and labs—for young people to unpack academic foundations and concepts, research ideas, and learn critical skills; and
  • Field Sites are commercial, public or non-profit organizations—such as businesses, farms, maker spaces, cultural centers—for learners to pursue dedicated projects, apply their learning in the real contexts and the world of work, engage with mentors, and hone their skills and aspirations, all as they contribute to specific needs of that organization.

Local teams of learner-centered advisors, coordinators, and mentors guide the daily experiences of young people throughout their learning journeys, ensuring they are connected, safe and seen.

In this vision of ecosystems, what would happen to teachers? To school buildings?

This vision of an ecosystem of learning is built on the vital roles that professional educators, advisors, learning facilitators, coaches, and content experts play. What it is not built on is the assumption that all of these roles (and many more) are played by the same person, trying to serve 20-40 children all at once. 

Our current system puts an incredible amount of weight on our teachers and assumes that everything a child needs to learn must be orchestrated by that one person and housed within a single building called school. Instead, the ecosystem invites professional educators to take on diversified roles in support of young people and invites family, elders, community members, and others from around the world who can connect virtually to also contribute to a child’s learning, growth, and development. To see a few images of what this could look like, go to our Explore What’s Possible page.

And, just as an ecosystem opens up new possibilities for our educators, it does the same for our school buildings. School buildings can be transformed to house maker spaces, science labs, kitchens, art and recording studios, and community gathering spaces. The idea isn’t to get rid of the building; it is to reimagine how we use that building as a resource for our children and our communities.

What about the mechanics and infrastructure—things like transportation, meals, safety?

Much of our invention process centers around establishing, troubleshooting and enabling the infrastructure necessary to bring learner-centered ecosystems to life. Big questions we are unpacking in this R&D acceleration initiative include how we help communities ensure the smooth and safe navigation of learning within an ecosystem. We also recognize and honor the role that conventional schools play in nourishing and protecting learners.

Our vision is that each community orchestrates and taps into a suite of shared services to manage the learning network teams and provide the connective tissue for enabling learner-centered experiences. This would include:

  • Enlisting, organizing and supporting community partners, 
  • Enabling transportation 
  • Meal planning and service
  • Facilitating technology needs
  • Ensuring the validation and credentialing of experiences,
  • Overseeing funding and financial management of the ecosystem, and 
  • Codifying and sharing feedback.

Do learner-centered, community-based ecosystems already exist?

The full realization of the Big Idea—a public education system that supports learner-centered ecosystems that aligns more directly with the needs of learners, their communities and our economy. Not yet.

But, there are pieces of this future all over the place. People are taking a learner-centered approach to education in public, private, charter, independent, out-of-school, and homeschooling settings. And, people across the country are finding ways to build stronger connections and networks amongst the learning opportunities in their community and the virtual world.

I’m excited by this and want to learn more. Where do I go?

We’re glad! We’d love to have you join us in this journey and share what you are seeing and learning. Reach out to for a follow-up conversation. 

We also invite you to explore our Discover More page to find other resources and conversation tools to bring the Big Idea to your community.