Governance of the Ecosystem of educational communities

Non-formal and informal learning just happens. And the digital revolution has but increased exponentially both the potential and possibilities of such non-formal and informal learning to catalyse, emerge, cluster, deploy and have an educational impact.

Non-formal and, especially, informal learning can be fostered and nurtured, and its ways and general horizons even by somewhat put in line with those of formal education. Sometimes.

The COVID-19 crisis is one of these times. The difficulties of formal education are many, and in general have been focused on keeping schools open.

But formal education does not only rely on schools being open: besides focusing on guaranteeing teaching (at school), there is a complementary approach based on guaranteeing learning (home, or elsewhere but the school) for times when schools cannot be kept open. We thus shift the approach from guaranteeing teaching to guaranteeing learning.

Blended and online learning have been the recurrent alternative to schools kept open. Blended and online learning has usually been understood as replacing schools by a virtual campus (or a learning management system, an LMS). This has brought forward at least three dire problems:

  • The obvious issue of the digital divide.
  • The problem of student mentoring, both by teachers and also by families, which now have to assume a share of what formerly was mainly done by the school, i.e. by teachers.
  • The difficulty to keep minors at home (especially the youngest ones) while their parents cannot stay home with them because they have jobs to attend too.

A third option —besides just keeping schools open and just keeping kids in front of computers while burdening their parents— is to work collectively towards education. This option turns upside down priorities, from teaching to learning, and then tries to find the resources where they are. But not only: it also aims at strengthening those resources —quite often “human resources” (the term is not the best one)— so that they can work better, be more efficient, be more effective.

What I here propose is nothing new. It is an ecosystem of communities of practice and communities of learning, just put together and working for a common goal (and a common good), which is K-12 education —of course it can be applied to secondary and any other learning environment, but we will focus here in the areas where the learner is less autonomous.

The real proposal, if any, is how the Administration can foster such ecosystem and make the best of it, in this case, so that no kid is left without learning in general, and in particular during the COVID-19 crisis.

Mind that this scheme is neither easy to implement nor cheap. The good news is that it can be implemented differently in all its different pieces, so that different levels and speeds can live together, depending on resources (of many kinds), social capital, and needs to be addressed.

I think the scheme of this governance model for an ecosystem Ecosystem of educational communities is quite self explanatory. I am going, nevertheless, to briefly list its main components.

  • Learning, custody and socialization represent the three main functions of the school and which turn to be the main goals to achieve in the long run. In addition to this, there is a fourth instrumental goal which I label knowledge infrastructure. This is a big simplification of what the school is about, but it also helps to clear out what schools are not and, most especially, that upon schools rely a complex set of functions whose relative importance change a lot depending on who is doing the measurement.
  • Communities are collectives of people to share resources, doubts, questions, solutions about the issue that gathers them. What differentiates such communities and informally gathered people or institutionally created bodies is that these are facilitated by (external) experts, who contribute to set mid-term goals, identify all relevant actors and call them to participate, try and make explicit tacit knowledge by documenting and maintaining whatever kind of repositories, and most especially, as it has been said, facilitate the short-, mid- and long-term dynamics of the community by applying specific methodologies.
    • Communities of disciplines are made up by educators working in the same field and at a similar educational level so that they do not reinvent the wheel, save efforts and improve their own resources and methodologies;
    • communities of centres are made up by the education and director boards of centres to leverage the potential of the most advanced teachers and mentor the striving ones;
    • communities of learning are especially made up by learners, so that they apply collaboration and cooperation in their own learning processes and strategies;
    • communities of environment are made up by all educating actors in a neighbourhood, with the educational centre as the axis, and with the concurrence of families, libraries, civil society organizations and most especially local Administrations.
  • The governance of the Ecosystem of educational communities is complemented by a governing body, made up by a coordination body, the facilitation, open educational resources (OER), learning management system services, and of course the boards of the educational centres.
  • The outputs of the Ecosystem of educational communities are learning resources, the online learning infrastructure understood in very broad terms, the practical organization of teaching, all methods required for teaching, methods to apply in the classroom, and the essential methods for families to help each other and help themselves in assuming part of the teaching/learning functions that intermittently open schools cannot provide normally.

As it has been said, the ecosystem of educational communities, as well as the knowledge infrastructure, do not come to replace, but rather to complement, both the institutions of formal education and the physical or face-to-face spaces. Regarding the first one, the optimum is that the educational centre is the axis around which the teaching and learning strategies are articulated, mobilizing and locating the necessary resources where they can best deploy their potential. Regarding the second one, the role of the knowledge infrastructure is to make it possible for learning resources to be ubiquitous, both for planning (by teachers and educators in general) and for their application, be it in a brick-and-mortar classroom, in a virtual campus, or in the dining room at home on a laptop or after having been processed on a printer.

This scheme aims not at being neither comprehensive nor thorough. It just aims at providing a general landscape on how to approach the complexity of non-formal and informal learning and how this could be leveraged to support teaching in these strange times where schools are not working normally.

A Spanish version of this text can be found at Gobernanza del Ecosistema de comunidades educativas.


Book Chapter. Fostering non-formal and informal democratic participation: From mass democracy to democracy networks

Book cover of Fomento de la participación democrática no formal e informal. De la democracia de masas a las redes de la democracia (chapter 11)

Fomento de la participación democrática no formal e informal. De la democracia de masas a las redes de la democracia

In September 2018 I attended the CAMPUS LAAAB. Iberoamerican conference of citizen innovation, where I presented a first draft of the strategy of citizen participation of the newly created directorate general of the Catalan government. The video and slides of the session can be watches or downloaded, respectivelly, at Fomento de la participación democrática no formal e informal. De la democracia de masas a las redes de la democracia.

Now, the Government of Aragon has published a book collecting all the speeches of the event. Abrir instituciones desde dentro. Hacking inside black book [Opening institutions from within. Hacking inside black book] features 17 different initiatives from 20 different authors, ranging from living labs to institutional change, but always under the general topic of citizen innovation through citizen democratic engagement.

My chapter, Fomento de la participación democrática no formal e informal. De la democracia de masas a las redes de la democracia [Fostering non-formal and informal democratic participation: From mass democracy to democracy networks] explains why and how the Catalan government aims at using citizen participation to transform the Administration with a higher goal: contributing to stop populism by helping citizens to understand politics… and using this higher goal to deeply transform how the Administration approaches citizens and how the monopoly of decision-making can be shared with them.

The whole book is in Spanish. See below the abstract of my book chapter and the book as a whole.

Book chapter abstract

Hay dos visiones complementarias de la participación ciudadana. La visión tradicional es que la participación nos ayuda a diseñar mejores leyes y políticas públicas gracias a hacer concurrir sobre éstas a más personas, con visiones diferentes y con conocimientos diversos. Gracias esta mayor concurrencia obtenemos leyes y políticas más eficaces -porque su diagnóstico y rango de soluciones es más ajustado- y más eficientes, dado que se incrementa el consenso, se reduce el conflicto y el diseño es técnicamente mejor.

Esta visión que podríamos adjetivar de esencialmente técnica puede complementarse de otra visión mucho más filosófica o incluso política en el sentido de transformación social a través de las ideas. Esta segunda visión es que la participación de carácter deliberativo podría constituir una suerte de tercer estadio de la democracia, tomando lo mejor de la democracia griega (directa) y la democracia moderna (representativa), a la vez que contribuye a suplir las cada vez más manifiestas carencias de ambas: por una parte, el coste de participar; por otra parte, la creciente complejidad de las decisiones públicas. No obstante, este tercer estadio, dada su naturaleza deliberativa, por definición debe darse en nuevos espacios y con nuevos actores, a incorporar al actual diseño de la práctica democrática centrado casi exclusivamente en las instituciones.

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Book chapter:
Peña-López, I. (2018). “Fomento de la participación democrática no formal e informal. De la democracia de masas a las redes de la democracia”. In Laboratorio de Aragón Gobierno Abierto (Ed.), Abrir instituciones desde dentro. Hacking Inside Black Book, Capítulo 11, 113-124. Zaragoza: LAAAB, Gobierno de Aragón.

Book abstract and download

La sociedad de masas de las primeras revoluciones industriales ha dado paso a una sociedad de multitudes. La democracia representativa y las organizaciones de intermediación conviven ahora con redes distribuidas, desde donde la ciudadanía digital reclama una participación más directa y anhela una relación más horizontal con las instituciones. En los últimos diez años han brotado movimientos cívicos en casi todas las regiones del planeta que reclaman la apertura de los gobiernos.

Las estrategias de participación y transparencia en torno al paradigma del gobierno abierto, inauguraron nuevas cartas de servicio en la última década, pero han ido surgiendo otras formas de hacer, otras metodologías, que experimentan con aumentar el rol de los ciudadanos en los asuntos públicos, y que agrupamos a modo de síntesis en el concepto de innovación ciudadana, donde se integran también proyectos que exploran los límites de la innovación social, la ciencia ciudadana o el diseño abierto y colaborativo.

El Gobierno de Aragón, en pleno proceso de impulso del Laboratorio de Aragón Gobierno Abierto (LAAAB), quiso reunir a algunos de los técnicos y teóricos de estas nuevas formas de hacer, de pensar y de participar, referentes de toda Iberoamérica, para contribuir desde su experiencia a la reflexión global. Tuvimos la suerte de poder reunir a todos los participantes de este libro, una veintena de personas que consideramos referentes en sus respectivos campos, y que conforman una buena muestra de lo mejor que se está haciendo en Latinoamérica y España en el amplio universo de la innovación ciudadana. Todos los ponentes cedieron sus ideas para la publicación del libro que aquí se presenta: Abrir instituciones desde dentro [Hacking Inside Black Book].

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Laboratorio de Aragón Gobierno Abierto (Ed.) (2018). Abrir instituciones desde dentro. Hacking Inside Black Book. Zaragoza: LAAAB, Gobierno de Aragón.


Book Chapter. Translearning: unfolding educational institutions to scaffold lifelong networked learning

Book cover for Higher Education in the Digital Age. Moving Academia Online

Higher Education in the Digital Age. Moving Academia Online

A couple of years ago I attended a workshop at the European University Institute, Shaking the brick and mortar: moving higher education online, where I presented Opening up the gates: scaffolding lifelong learning.

The reflections on that workshop have now been published as a book: Higher Education in the Digital Age. Moving Academia Online, edited by Annika Zorn, Jeff Haywood, and Jean-Michel Glachant.

I have contributed to the book with chapter 3, Translearning: unfolding educational institutions to scaffold lifelong networked learning.

The whole book can be downloaded in preprint format. Please find below the abstracts and links to download both my chapter and the whole book.

Book chapter abstract and download

Most works on instructional technology focus on the potential – and sometimes weaknesses – of technologies to do certain things. This chapter will take the opposite approach: we will be looking at 10 different “institutions” in education (the school, the classroom, the textbook, the library, the syllabus, the schedule, the teacher, evaluation, certification and the curriculum) and see how, on the one hand, digital technologies are challenging the foundations of such institutions and, on the other hand, how they can strengthen their role in education by unfolding their reach and scope. Ours is, thus, an approach that focuses on transformation of institutions by pushing them outside of their formal education framework and into lifelong learning by being part of learners’ informal educational networks.

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Book chapter as preprint:
Peña-López, I. (2018). “Translearning: unfolding educational institutions to scaffold lifelong networked learning”. In Zorn, A., Haywood, J. & Glachant, J. (Eds.), Higher Education in the Digital Age. Moving Academia Online, Chapter 3, 55-82. Northampton, MA: Edgar Elgar.

Book abstract and download

The European higher education sector is moving online, but to what extent? Are the digital disruptions seen in other sectors of relevance for both academics and management in higher education? How far are we from fully seizing the opportunities that an online transition could offer? This insightful book offers a broad perspective on existing academic practices, and discusses how and where the move online has been successful, and the lessons that can be learned.

Higher Education in the Digital Age offers readers a comprehensive overview of the ways in which a move into online academia can be made. Analysing successful case studies, the original contributions to this timely book address the core activities of an academic institution – education, research, and research communication – instead of focusing only on online learning or digital strategies relevant for individual academics. Chapters cover online and networked learning, as well as the myriad ways in which the digital age can improve research and knowledge exchange with experts and society more widely.

Academics, managers and policy makers in higher education institutions will greatly benefit from the up-to-date case studies and advice outlined in this book. Academic administrators and academic project leaders will also find this a useful tool for improving the accessibility of their work.

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Whole book as preprint:
Zorn, A., Haywood, J. & Glachant, J. (Eds.) (2018). Higher Education in the Digital Age. Moving Academia Online. Northampton, MA: Edgar Elgar.

All other information can be found at the official website of the book.


From teacher training to teacher learning

Whenever the performance of teachers in educational centres is evaluated, teacher training appears as a key issue. And it is crucial, simplifying, in two areas. On the one hand, as an indicator of the teacher’s level of competency updating, that is, for their evaluation and professional accreditation. On the other hand, as an instrument for this teacher to expand their toolbox and apply it in their day to day with their students.

Without aiming at judging here the effectiveness and efficiency of the various initiatives that are currently under way in terms of teacher training, what is true is that most of them have pivoted on institutionality and training. By institutionality we mean that they must begin and develop from certain institutions, be scheduled well in advance, have a certain structure and duration or teaching load and, above all, be recognized as such, that is, as teacher training initiatives within a determined scheme of the Administration. By training we understand, precisely, the high formal component of these initiatives and that, by construction, leaves out a very wide range of initiatives and learning opportunities that occur in the margins of the established system of teacher training.

There are reasons for this to be so and we do not want to open this space now to discuss them. Surely we would agree: guarantee a certain quality, avoid fraud (especially economic), etc.

But, that we aim at guaranteeing these principles does not mean that there is only one way for our teachers to learn. Moreover, it begins to be highly dissonant that, while we affirm that an era is opening where it is important to learn to learn, where it is essential to learn throughout life, where we must give tools to our students to be autonomous in their learning (present and future), we keep formal teacher training ase the only practical option: closed initiatives, circumscribed to a time and a space, and highly directed, prefabricated and unidirectional.

Outside the radar of the traditional teacher training, many educators begin to organise themselves in communities of practice and learning (virtual or face-to-face); share doubts and resources in their blogs; participate in edcamps, workshops, webinars or educational hackathons; carry out innovative projects that open up the educational community, and a long list of examples that begin to be not an exception, but a real trend that does not stop winning critical mass.

Are we capable of recognizing and, above all, fostering this type of learning, of high value (because it is not individual, but collective!), but that systematically falls outside what we have usually understood as training of trainers?

Post originally published on 28 February 2018, with the original title De la formació de formadors a l’aprenentatge de formadors in All articles published in that outlet and republished here can be read in English at edubarometre.


Report. Inclusion in the age of post-democracy

Cover of the report Inclusión en la era de la Postdemocracia

Inés Bebea (from Ondula), Gabriel González (from Fundación Esplai) and I (with the help of Juan Sánchez, also from Fundación Esplai) have just issued our report Inclusión en la era de la Postdemocracia (Inclusion in the age of post-democracy).

The origins of the proposal “Inclusion in the age of postdemocracy” come from the debate held during the day of the plenary meeting of the Advisory Council of Fundación Esplai on Committed Citizenship, held on January 20, 2015. In this debate took part the Advisory Board, the Board of Trustees and the technical team of the organization, and during the event the participants identified the challenges that technology is creating at the social level at the present time, and to which the Fundación Esplai Foundation should respond in order to collaborate in the the construction of a technologically empowered citizenry that makes a critical, responsible and useful use in the pursue of their own personal development and that of one’s community.

The project takes as its starting point a basic document, which sets out the concrete objectives to advance in this line:

  • Present the state of the situation on the practices of active citizenship in the areas of health, education and democracy.
  • Propose consensuses that group different actors and sensitivities towards a common strategy and action lines.
  • Design action lines for the promotion of active citizenship based on an intensive, open and community-based use of ICTs.

Between July and October 2016 Fundación Esplai launched a proposal to study and debate the role that Information and Communication Technologies play in social inclusion and in the active exercise of citizenship, as essential tools for access to education, health and democratic participation. The work proposal, which emphasizes the analysis of the call third-level digital divide, included a participation process to which a broad sector of the citizenry was invited, especially those more linked to Fundación Esplai initiatives: members of the Advisory Board, Board of Trustees and professional staff of the Fundación Esplai, organizations of the of the Red Conecta and associated networks, professionals in the ICT sector, Education and Social Inclusion as well as private individuals interested in the topic.


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Final report:
Peña-López, I., Bebea, I. & González, G. (2017). Inclusión en la era de la Postdemocracia. Informe del estudio. Octubre 2016. El Prat de Llobregat: Fundación Esplai.


Book chapter. Networked learning: strategies and tools to open and disrupt educational institutions

Portada del libro Pedagogía Red

Professors Begoña Gros and Cristóbal Suárez have edited a new book that has just been released, Pedagogía red. Una educación para tiempos de internet (Networked pedagogy. An education for the Internet age).

I have been invited to write a chapter for the book on how can we learn in networks or as networks. The easiest way to answer the question would have been to come up with a list of tools… which would have been outdated the day after the book saw the light. Instead, I focused on how “educational institutions” (understood in a very broad way: the textbook, the teacher, the classroom, the library, evaluation, etc.) could be opened, unfolded so that their momentum gathered along the years could be disrupted and actors and tasks profoundly changed.

Besides thanking both Begoña Gros and Cristóbal Suárez for their invitation, I also very heartily have to thank Toni Aguilar, as he was the first one to force me to think in this terms when he invited me to do the talk ICT and education:: evolution of education, revolution in learning, which I have repeatedly given after that — and finally became a book chapter, as now can be seen. Gràcies Toni!

The book is in Spanish, the chapter is called ¿Con qué aprender en red? Estrategias y herramientas para la abertura y disrupción de las instituciones educativas (Networked learning: strategies and tools to open and disrupt educational institutions) and here goes the abstract and the bibliography I used.


Cuando se habla de qué herramientas utilizar para aprender en red, es fácil acabar utilizando la herramienta por la herramienta. A pesar de que nos repetimos a nosotros mismos cual mantra que las herramientas son solamente instrumentos para conseguir unos fines – en este caso de aprendizaje – nos ocurre una y otra vez que ponemos las herramientas en el lugar de los fines.

Ello ocurre incluso en los casos donde nos dotamos de categorizaciones o de verdaderas ontologías para asignar cada herramienta al cajón del que solamente saldrá cuando tengamos claro su papel instrumental.

En este capítulo vamos a evitar caer en la tentación prescindiendo, por completo, de una caja de herramientas. O de una lista. O de una categorización. Todo un reto para lo que, a primera vista, debería ser un despliegue de estrategias y herramientas para el aprendizaje en red.

En su lugar, nos centraremos en tejer la red de aprendizaje. Y lo haremos desmontando, desplegando, abriendo las instituciones que, hasta hoy, siguen protagonizado (y con mucho éxito, no querríamos perder esto de vista) la enseñanza. Y el aprendizaje, a menudo confinado a esas instituciones.

Más que en las herramientas, pues, queremos poner bajo el foco la disrupción que las instituciones educativas están sufriendo y que, en parte, viene de la mano de determinadas estrategias y herramientas. Y es analizando las disrupciones que se están dando en el papel de 10 instituciones educativas que hemos seleccionando que veremos cómo actúan determinadas estrategias y herramientas.


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