Detaching learning from educational institutions

Man using a cutting torchVigilant guard exercise, courtesy of The National Guard.

We, educators, keep on reciting the mantra that we should learn our whole lives. The paradigm of lifelong learning. But we keep on talking about education. That is, educational institutions. This is, to my point of view, a contradiction in its terms, to say the least.

Let us imagine a person that will be taking courses until she is 21. This is a usual age to get a regular three-year-long bachelor’s degree (approximately). Imagine that person will live 84 years. Under a lifelong learning paradigm, that person will keep on learning after leaving college. Indeed, that person will spend 75% of her life learning outside of the educational system.


Despite the fact that we acknowledge that most people will spend most of their lifetimes outside of the educational system — away from schools, high schools, colleges, universities and other educational centres — we keep on saying that we need to transform schools, high schools, colleges, universities and other educational centres.

I am sure we have to transform them, but I am not that sure that we are making it in the direction that is most needed: towards the world or informal learning. I believe that educational centres will only have a purpose if they can still provide support to those learners that are not within their walls.

In other words, we have to prepare learners to be autonomous once they leave the educational system. But autonomy means not isolation, but self-management, which is quite different. And it is different because self-management still relies on access to knowledge-intensive resources. Like educational institutions.

Thus, we have to prepare educational institutions for that time when most people will be mostly learning outside of educational institutions, but not without them: we need to open up educational institutions, blur the borders that separate formal from non-formal and informal learning. We need to get over the idea that learning (“quality learning”, “serious learning”) happens only within institutions. We have to detach learning — the action — from educational centres — the place.

If we understand by educational institution something more than just centres, we can identify several other educational institutions that definitely need and actually can be opened up, unfolded, disrupted, subverted:

  • The school: to get rid of time and space. Learning is not a place.
  • The classroom: to build learning communities, several ones, that let information in and out. Learning is not a cohort of people.
  • The textbook: to be up-to-date, to build together what is considered a resource. Learning is not written in stone.
  • The library: to enable more than one choice criterion. Learning is not passive.
  • The syllabus: to foster connections with the real world. Learning is not a black box in a white room.
  • The schedule: to make of any time a good time for learning. Learning is not a season.
  • The teacher: to bring in more voices to one’s own learning. Learning is not a social birthmark.
  • The assessment: to make of learning a two-way path. Learning is not perfect isolation.
  • The certification: to really focus on skills and competences. Learning is not a title.
  • The curriculum: to make of learning an environment. Learning should be self-determined (heutagogy).

I am utterly concerned about the role of educational institutions: I believe that soon they will have none. I am totally convinced that there is an urgency for learning institutions. And yes, we can (re)use educational institutions as learning ones. But their transformation needs being thorough, deep, radical. And it begins with detaching the content from its container, in the same way that when we talk about social work, we speak about interventions, not about social centres. We need to talk about the role from the institution and how, and when, and where, and by whom, and what is the best way to put that role in motion.

If you need to cite this article in a formal way (i.e. for bibliographical purposes) I dare suggest:

Peña-López, I. (2015) “Detaching learning from educational institutions” In ICTlogy, #144, September 2015. Barcelona: ICTlogy.
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