Mini Lesson 1

A New Way to Think About Learning


  • Learning Opportunity instead of classes, credits, and grades
  • Using Who, What, When, Where, Why, and How to describe a Learning Opportunity
  • Learning Journey instead of requirements and check boxes
  • Leaving behind Evidence of Learning


TEXT SUMMARY OF MINI LESSON 1 was founded in 2016 as a way to try and design a school that was adaptive and flexible enough to be the school that each student needed rather than forcing each student to adapt to the needs of the school.

We threw out all the concepts that came with traditional schooling like classes, grades, and credits and started with thinking about the way people learn. We recognized that people learn all the time, in all kinds of different places. Learning is not limited to what happens in classrooms. That is kind of obvious. So perhaps we need to accomodate that fact.

Learning Opportunity

In the system we have a concept called, a Learning Opportunity

A Learning Opportunity is anytime you intentionally put yourself in a position to learn something.

A class is one type of Learning Opportunity. There is nothing wrong with learning in a classroom setting. But it is only one type of Learning Opportunity. Reading a book on your own is a Learning Opportunity. Doing an internship is a Learning Opportunity. Interviewing an expert is a Learning Opportunity. Creating a video is a Learning Opportunity.

A Learning Opportunity is not defined by time or place. They can take four years or four hours. Writing a novel over the course of four years is one Learning Opportunty. But so is watching a set of related videos on Youtube.

So the first insight to understand is that we took the concept of a class and broadened tremendously to include things that happen outside of a classroom. We call that a Learning Opportunity. This is the basic unit of the Field Guide.

Capturing a Learning Opportunity

Since we define a Learning Opportunity so broadly and openly to include almost any kind of learning, how do we go about capturing and keeping a record of each Learning Opportunity?

In a traditional school, a class is recorded as a grade and a credit in a specific category. That grade and credit are a shorthand for what content or skills were covered and how the student performed in the class.

That system of record keeping, grades and credits, is efficient but doesn't communicate a lot of information. When a student in a traditional school participates in extra-curricular activities like sports, music, clubs, travel, theatre they are not typically given credits and grades. Even though those experiences might be important, many times even more important to the student than the graded classes, they don't impact a students Grade Point Average or Class Ranking. They might not even show up on an Official Transcript.

We believe all Learning Opportunities are worthing of capturing and including in Your Story. We have developed a system to capture any Learning Opportunity, no matter how short or long, whether it takes place in a classroom, at a museum, or as part of a student-driven activity.

Our system uses the Who, What, When, Where, Why, and How questioning system that is used by journalists, detectives, lawyers, researchers and anyone else who is trying to make sure they are capturing a 360 degree view of a situation.

At the end of a Learning Opportunity we ask the learner to record ...

  • WHO was involved in the Learning Opportunity. Who learned along with you. Who taught you. Who guided you. Who else was involved.
  • WHAT were the Content, Skills, Habits, Mindsets involved in this Learning Opportunity. Include them all, we don't need to limit it to only a single subject area. Integrated, cross disciplinary learning is very powerful and we want to encourage it.
  • WHEN did this Learning Opportunity occur. When did it start. When did it stop. What were the total number of hours spent on this Learning Opportunity.
  • WHERE did this Learning Opportunity take place. Was it online, in-person, at another institution, at your home, on a trip.
  • WHY did you want to pursue this Learning Opportunity. Were you driven by curiosity, passion, interest, short or long term goals, a requirement.
  • HOW did you learn during this Learning Opportunity. Was it teacher-led, student-led. Did you create something, learn by doing, discover something?

We feel this system not only allows you to capture a wide range of Learning Opportunities; it also keeps a deeper, more complete record; it encourages unique, creative, integrated, and interdisciplinary Learning Opportunities; it also gives the learner complete ownership of their own records. The leaners is the one who reflects on their learning and captures what was most important about their choices in what and how to learn and who to learn it with.

The Field Guide website has a host of tools and examples to help you capture Learning Opportunities using this model. We will also talk in more detail during Mini Lesson 5.

Going on a Learning Journey

We want you to go on a Learning Journey. That is what we call your years of high school at A Learning Journey.

A journey can be planned. A journey can include unexpected side roads, taking chances, being spontaneous, changing your mind, making mistakes, making discoveries.

The saying is "It's the journey that is important, not the destination."

We believe that to be true. We think the value of your education is in the journey. We want you to think of it as Learning Journey. The end goal is not to get somewhere but to discovery yourself and to have a story to tell.

The process of recording your Learning Opportunities along the way serves two big purposes...

  1. Like a scrapbook captures your vacation so that you can share with others and remember it yourself, the Record of a Learning Opportunity captures your Learning Journey along the way so that you can share it others and reflect on it yourself.
  2. Recording your Learning Opportunities using our tools gives you a chance to reflect and think about your Learning Journey. It helps you integrate the learning that is already happening and to think about what you want to do next. This process of reflection makes you a better learner and helps you tell a better story at the end of your Journey.

Evidence of Learning

There is one more thing that we think is important for Telling Your Story. We want you to leave behind Evidence of Learning.

Evidence of Learning is something tangible that can be shared with others that remains at the end of a Learning Opportunity.

It might help to start with examples ...

  • At the end of a traditional class you usually have a grade and a credit. That can serve as Evidence of Learning.
  • If you decided for a Learning Opportunity you wanted to write an article for DWNTWN Magazine ('s student run magazine/instagram/podcast), you would have a copy of that article as Evidence of Learning.
  • If you are learning to play piano, you could record a performance or recital or concert and use that as Evidence of Learning.
  • If you conducted an oral history by interviewing your grandfather. The recording or transcript of that interview can be your Evidence of Learning.
  • If you created an app or website. The code and final product will serve as Evidence of Learning.

Sometimes a Learning Opportunity naturally leaves behind Evidence of Learning. Sometimes a Learning Opportunity does not naturally leave anything behind.

  • Reading a book is a wonderful way to learn. But it doesn't leave anything tangible behind.
  • Youtube and Wikipedia are terrific sources of learning. But watching videos and reading Wiki entries don't naturally leave behind anything you can share with others.
  • Internships, Jobs, and Job Shadows are great ways to explore and discover what people do for careers but they don't naturally leave anything behind.

Sometimes you have to be a little more pro-active and/or creative to make sure each Learning Opportunity has Evidence of Learning to go with it.

Here are some examples of ways to create Evidence of Learning if it doesn't happen naturally.

  • Write or record a Self-Reflection (there will be a lot more on Self-Reflection in Mini Lesson 6)
  • Combine with another type of Learning Opportunity that does leave behind Evidence of Learning
    • Maybe, in addition to reading a book, you want to write a review or essay.
    • Maybe, in addition to watching Youtube videos, you want to create your own video or create a playlist of curated videos on a topic.
    • Maybe, in addition to doing an internship, you want to ask your supervisor to write an evaluation of your work during the internship.

We are big fans of Evidence of Learning for a couple of reasons. One, it creates a lasting record for yourself and others to see tangibly what you have done. That is very valuable in the long run and will be very helpful when it comes time to Telling Your Story. Secondly, the process of capturing Evidence of Learning is a great way to reinforce and integrate what your learning and challenge yourself to learn in an active and authentic way. Designing and selecting Learning Opportunities that have Evidence of Learning and/or doing a Self-Reflection at the end of a Learning Opportunity will help you take a Learning Journey that is unique, interesting, and better matched to you.

You will have a change to learn more about Evidence of Learning during Mini Lesson 6. You can also explore the tools, resources, and examples at the Field Guide.

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