Context Teaches Most

If we really want students to grow up to become self-reliant and reach their full potential; we would be doing something very different in University! Steve Hargadon and Thieu Besseling are telling a story about the power of learning that is very different from what we experience in traditional models of school.


We live in a state of cognitive dissonance. The single answer to what people are getting out of 15 years of traditional education is that they learned how to follow! In many universities that is still the original intent. Education is strongly based on the belief that students follow the directions of a small group of elites (teachers).
How do you tell a story that opens the door to rethink what people have believed for many years? The system’s fundamental design also leads to a host of unintended consequences, such as average performance, one-size-fits-all approach, copy paste learning and even bullying.
We are placing students in artificial environments telling (most of) them they are not good at things. The ‘unwilling’ or ‘mean’ student thing is more a reflection of how students are being treated than a reflection of students.

status quo

The reason so many adults find the situation tolerable may stem from the fact that they experience little control over their own lives. Additionally, they are products of the system and find it difficult to envision an alternative. They don’t question schooling. The status quo can be discribed as: people who benefit from us not being active citizens, from all buying the same things, and being willing to take jobs that demand we leave our personal values at the door—they all benefit from the current schooling system, because it produces a populace that does not feel confident in being critical. On a personal level: those who benefit don’t have much incentive to promote changes in education that would lead people to question their motives or challenge their practices.

human capacity

With the world wide web we entered an era of ‘digital democracy’ and increased people’s capacity to question the status quo. Free and easy access to unlimited information has opened many doors. But the process of becoming a self-directed, independent learner is a very human process. Recognizing the different needs of every student, and the desire to help each one become personally competent as a learner and find productive things to do in life—that won’t happen online.
The temptation to solve all these problems with data must also be tempered. Data do not define the core things in education, such as someone opening your eyes to something. There’s a lesson to be learned from business where the true value of the ‘total quality’ movement didn’t came from tracking, but from involving workers in using the data for self improvement.

context teaches most

agents of learning

How do you tell a new story that involves people reclaiming their destinies, students not being defective, and learning not being owned by one organization?

No one says that from age 16 to 25 (and earlier), we will give you all the same food, at the same time, regardless of your individual circumstances or needs. Because we so strongly associate education with control it becomes very hard to conceiving an alternative reality. I envision a world where students can choose where, how, and what they learn. Important is that students get the conception of having agency again. As individuals and communities, we need to reclaim the conversation around learning. Like Thieu Besseling created the Learning Lab and recognize the inherent worth and value of every student, with the ultimate goal of helping them become self-directed and agents of their own learning.


I became aware that we need to focus on the process by which people can develop instead of promoting a certain model. People can adopt models that best fit their needs. I consider deep, meaningful searching and prototyping a useful starting point for people to shape the future. Living in a democracy means involving people in decision making. You can’t create a new system to implement top down: you have to provide the opportunity to talk about it and build it constructively.

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