Leader of the revolution?
Picking up the baton
It’s been a long time since Ken Robinson’s famous TED talk in 2006. Andy Homden asks whether the baton of the learning revolution has been picked up by a new champion who is already putting ideas into practice on a large scale.
By any standards, Christopher Pommerening is a hugely successful person. Entrepreneur and venture capitalist, way back in 1998 at the age of 24 he co-founded AutoScout24 Spain, which is now part of Europe’s largest online market-place for new and used cars. In other words, he saw the potential of online trading when the rest of us were just coping with email on a dial up connection. Since then there have been a series of stellar business successes. Visionary is certainly an understatement.
For many, such a list of successes would have been more than enough, but when you meet Pommerening you are aware of a restlessness that is patiently and calmly expressed. He has the articulate confidence of a self-made person, but to engage with him is to be involved in a conversation – he is a serial learner and does not want to miss anything that could be important to what has become his central mission. And that mission? Since 2017 his objective has become no less than the complete reform of educational systems around the world. . . .
Finding his Ikigai
This mission is wrapped up in the Japanese idea of Ikigai – or living for a purpose. As a father of three children and an individual who delights in the exuberance and creativity of young people, Pommerening does not want to see their spirit sapped by playing a purposeless examinations game that makes a mockery of learning – or as he puts it – to watch as they line up like lemmings heading to the cliff. Conventional academic achievement may well bring material prosperity, but little else. He wants a whole lot more – not only for his family, but for all young people.
Purpose into action
Ikigai in fact involves more than just finding a purpose – it requires action. With the confidence shaped by a successful business career, Pommerening’s kind of action is already happening on a large scale.
However, as befits a serial learner, his commitment has no trace of hubris. This is no vanity project. First he had to discover more about what he knew he did not know, and so began a quest to identify the issues that had to be addressed. He then sought help to design a series of responses to which he has now committed. He has a natural disposition to collaboration, and one suspects, his action will be all the more effective for it. Yes, it is very personal, but his action has, it seems, been transcended and enhanced by the input of others whose advice he has sought, with Blair MacLaren and Stephen Harris as his co-founders.
The first major expression of their response has been the creation of Learnlife, a growing organisation based in Pommerening’s adopted home of Barcelona. With Harris and MacLaran, he has built a team of thinkers and supporters who have developed a new learning paradigm or ecosystem which, they argue, can be adapted for use by anyone in any place, because it is curriculum agnostic.
The paradigm is radically learner-centred, challenging old and young alike to move beyond an understanding of the world towards what Pommerening calls ‘innerstanding’ or a deep discovery of self. It draws on four ikigai principles that allow the individuals to engage deeply with the world, as they discover what they love, what the world needs, what they can be recognised for and what they are good at.
Outcomes are not a random pick and mix, however, and in grounding the project Pommerening draws on the aphorism attributed to his countryman, Goethe:
There are only two lasting bequests we can hope to give our children. One of these is roots, the other, wings.
In finding purpose, learners therefore, have to understand their own context before they can break new ground. This idea is reflected in the Learnlife logo, with a single corner of the quadrant breaking away on wings from its other, grounded elements.
Learnlife has been deliberately set up as an interactive organisation, gathering opinion and encouraging debate among a wider community or ‘Alliance’. By engaging widely, the Learnlife team seek not only to influence, but also to listen to ideas during high profile events such as the ambitiously organised [RE]LEARN festival of learning. When you dip your toes in the [RE]LEARN pool it is really hard not to be impressed – and just a little carried away in its youthful exuberance.
Discussion is fine – but again, for Pommerening, insufficient. There had to be an early practical expression of the paradigm in action and so the first Learning Hub was created in central Barcelona. The right kind of learning spaces in which to implement the Learnlife paradigm, matter deeply. Open plan, flexible, light, with shared and individual spaces crafted into a beautifully refurbished period building, the new Barcelona Hub – which he describes as the Learnlife lighthouse – is the very opposite of the traditional corridor and classroom box school design. It can accommodate up to 200 students, the majority of whom are following full time programmes, while others are evening and weekend participants.
Finding his wings
More hubs are in the pipeline and are being designed to become the beacons that encourage schools, governments, entrepreneurs and, in the end, systems on a global basis to become involved. Some, like the Hub being planned for Hamburg are envisioned on a huge scale. Like the Learnlife Alliance, the hubs offer access to others who wish to use them, whatever their curriculum. The aim by 2030? Opening 2,000 hubs in 200 countries, influencing 100,000 schools, 5,000,000 educators and involving 100,000,000 students.
The die is already cast, and Pommerening is quietly confident that the movement will grow. City by city, school by school, teacher by teacher, student by student.
Education’s Elon Musk?
Will Christopher Pommerening be to education what Elon Musk is to rocket science? His style is very different, but the impact of his ideas might be just as profound or even more so. Flexible, open, and based on coherently organised principles, Learnlife is a new movement to keep an eye on. The innovators out there are already walking through the Learnlife door, and the early adopters won’t be far behind. The followers? Watch this space.
The Learning Revolution might just have become a really serious proposition.
Find out how you can become involved in Learnlife here: https://learnlife.com/
Images kindly provided by Learnlife