Recently, the concept of ecosystem has been widely used in many areas ranging from the organization of living things in nature to the performance of social institutions, business, economics and technology.
Experts of Global Education Futures (Jessica Spencer-Keyse, Head of Global Research, HundrED; Pavel Luksha, Professor, Moscow School of Management SKOLKOVO; Joshua Cubista, Dean, Social Innovation Institute) argue that people have been experiencing one of the most dynamic periods in the history and facing the consequences of global changes and pressure as a result of certain processes. Society has been more acutely aware of ecological and biological threats as well as fragility of the social structure.
We have become hyper connected in the global network of information flow and social media and dependent on the Internet. Digital innovations fundamentally change the labour market and can transform the world economy. High risk and high potential technology (for example, genetic engineering) are becoming a reality and represent a great potential and global threat. Demographic indicators such as urbanization, increased life expectancy, and low birth rate have also changed in a number of regions (Spencer-Keyse, Luksha, Cubista, 2020).
In recent years, English abbreviation VUCA has been used to denote the world complexity and unpredictability. It stands for Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous.
It is obvious that education around the globe does not provide adolescents with the skills to navigate the VUCA world that would correspond to the healthy and sustainable lifestyle prioritized by young people. According to the World Skills report, only 20% of young people (out of 15,000 respondents in 19 different countries) value their education (OECD, 2019). Similarly, according to the HundrEd research report “Every Child to Flourish”, 83% of young people do not feel prepared for life in the modern world (Warren & Spencer-Keyse, 2018).
Dr. Bronwen Rees (psychotherapist, Matrix College of Counseling and Psychotherapy) suggests positive alternatives to the VUCA abbreviation. He argues we can qualitatively change overall understanding of the VUCA world:
- Volatility can be substituted for Vision;
- Uncertainty — for Understanding;
- Complexity — for Clarity;
- Ambiguity — for Agility (Rees, 2017).
Spencer-Keyse et al. (2020) states that it is important to shift from personalized and subject-oriented learning to cooperative holistic one to solve ”ambiguous” problems in the context of school education because supra-subject and ”life” skills are becoming increasingly significant. The classical education system forms a ”modular person” who is standardized and ”built” out of learning modules of knowledge and skills. The innovation system, in turn, forms a ”complex person”, i.e. a unique personality is brought up by building individual learning trajectories and developing inter-disciplinary skills.
A possible answer to the question how a holistic personality can be developed in the context of secondary education (and not only), experts suggest considering a student as a part of the learning ecosystem.
The term “learning ecosystem” has been used relatively recently. The Virginia Polytechnic Institute Innovation Strategy 2007 notes that the ”learning ecosystem” includes assets and interests of stakeholders (faculty, students, industries, communities and individuals representing each of these categories) and aims to achieve synergetic outcomes so that everyone would benefit (Pearce & McCoy, 2007).
In 2011, Innovation Unit in partnership with CISCO published a report “Developing an Innovation Ecosystem for Education” (Hannon, Patton, & Temperley, 2011) where the concept of ”ecosystem” is primarily considered as a ”support system for innovations” (including social). Since the ecosystem approach in education is just evolving and it is a complex concept in general, there is currently no single definition of the learning ecosystem.
Learning ecosystems should be considered as a means combining different types of innovational, entrepreneurial and learning ecosystem approaches (see below, Spencer-Keyse et al., 2020).
Figure 1. Example of interrelated multi-level ecosystems in entrepreneurship, innovations and education (source: Spencer-Keyse et al., 2020)
Characteristics of a learning ecosystem
Spencer-Keyse et al. (2020) state that the learning ecosystem is multifaceted, co-created and purposeful.
Multifaceted means the ecosystem engages different stakeholders in decision-making. They are first liner institutions or educational organizations (schools, universities) and second liner institutions that establish demands and operating constraints for learning providers, yet do not often engage in providing learning experiences themselves (managers, professional communities, banks, parents and the media). It should be noted that learning ecosystems establish relationships to effectively and intentionally build the environment and provide access to available resources.
Another characteristic of learning ecosystem is an opportunity to co-create, i.e. stakeholders can collaborate, manage and implement the learning process. This characteristic describes decentralized ecosystem that enables everyone to exchange experience, knowledge and ideas to effectively organize the educational process following the principles of inclusion, diversity and equity.
The last characteristic, purposefulness means activities of the learning participants are organized to achieve the main goal – learning. An ecosystem can also refer to other objectives such as social and universal well-being, inner and collective transformation, development and growth, joy of learning or conscious evolution.
OECD (2019). Youth Voice for the Future of Work. Retrieved from https://worldskills.org/what/projects/youth-voice/
Spencer-Keyse, J., Luksha, P., Cubista, J. (2020) Learning Ecosystems: An Emerging Praxis For The Future Of Education Moscow School of Management SKOLKOVO and Global Education Futures: Moscow
Hannon V., Patton A., & Temperley J. (2011). Developing an Innovation Ecosystem for Education. London: Innovation Unit.
Pearce A., McCoy A. (2007) Creating an Educational Ecosystem for Construction: A Model for Research, Teaching, and Outreach Integration and Synergy. Working paper E14. Myers-Lawson School of Construction, Department of Building Construction, VirginiaTech.
Rees, B. (2017). The Use of Mindfulness in a Traumatic VUCA World. In Managing VUCA Through Integrative Self-Management (pp. 193-206). Springer, Cham.
Warren F., & Spencer-Keyse J. (2018). Every Child to Flourish Understanding Global Perspectives on Improving Education. HunrEd.