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Stoa Communities

Allow students to learn individually, from experts, and from peers, in a supportive environment, whether it is physical or virtual.

Photo of Lawrence Kearns
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Written by

I am a.....

  • Architect

Tell us about your idea

There are three ways we learn effectively. Ironically, most educational institutions avoid them because they don't fit the rigid practices that favor administrators, instructors, and outdated buildings. As Churchill said, "We shape our buildings, and afterward, our buildings shape us."  The COVID crisis has laid bare the shortcomings and lack of resilience of so many of our schools.

We need an alternative model for instructors attempting to disseminate knowledge to large groups of diverse individuals. We are cognitively diverse. We need a resilient model for learning that can translate to physical or virtual environments. We call the model a Stoa Community.

We can learn effectively individually - from analog or digital content, which a programmer can design to adapt to our personal preferences for pace and presentation. We learn from experts - most effectively in small groups that share abilities to maximize connection.  Finally, we learn from peers - most effectively in diverse groups of four, which minimizes the chance of parallel conversations.

Despite the COVID crisis, schools practicing blended learning - which interlocks these three modes of learning -  have not missed a beat when pushed to the virtual world. In contrast, most schools stuck in the convenience of large group instruction, even ones with stellar reputations, are struggling with remote learning. Their struggle is a symptom of the misplaced deference to "teaching to the middle," which can only work with strategically sorted groups. The success of selective schools that admit students by testing perpetuates the myth that large group instruction can work for everyone.

But schools are about more than instruction. Many students struggling through worksheets disguised as remote learning during the COVID crisis can attest to that. Solitary motivation is a rare trait.

In other self-improvement industries, such as dieting and exercise, institutions help people alleviate feelings of isolation and motivate them by immersing them in places of high expectation surrounded by the camaraderie of a community and support of coaches. If educators followed this lead and transitioned to coaches who motivate learning by blending the three useful modes of learning with intrinsic curiosity, outcomes would be different.

Regardless of a learner's age, schools that recombine the mutual aid and support systems of other industries with blended learning will succeed, whether virtual or physical. Stoa Communities will improve the learning for individuals aged from elementary to higher education.  Learners will be able to choose the pace and place, supported by peers and mentors in virtual and face-to-face settings, with exchanges facilitated in person or online. Free of pandemic outbreaks, adult learners struggling to finish their college degrees can travel to a physical Stoa Community.

Physical Stoa Communities will have focused spaces for introspective individual online learning, peer to peer collaborative learning, small group instruction, and coaching.  For adult learners, refreshments can be offered and sold through a partnering retail establishment.  Schools can provide something similar.

Virtual Stoa Communities can conduct the same activities in a virtual world. A school serving any age group can reimagine itself as an assemblage of virtual Stoa Communities, facilitated by a team of coaches who are experts in different disciplines. When a crisis like the current COVID pandemic passes, virtual Stoa Communities can become physical again.

As an architect, I know designers can transform outdated learning spaces into 21st century Stoa Communities. Social entrepreneurs have built schools in the past decade explicitly designed to support blended learning, where spaces for all three modes of learning interlock with one another to minimize disturbances.

Whether they originate as virtual or physical places, Stoa Communities will be resilient since learners can switch between the two variations without a lot of difficulties. With the COVID crisis, businesses are questioning the necessity of offices for their workers, since many tasks can occur virtually.  Allowing workers and learners to have more agency will produce better results. Agency means there must be choices to make. Learners in traditional schools don't have many choices.

For adult learners, particularly those trying to finish a college degree, Stoa Communities can associate with local child care providers, to offer parent learners the option of paying for on-site or proximate daycare to maximize their learning time. For these older learners, a retail partner's refreshments will imbue the place with a cafe-like feel, reinforcing its social component.

What part(s) of the pre-COVID school system do you wish to leave in the past? Why?

Teaching to the middle. Large group instruction. Classrooms designed for one purpose.

Tell us a little bit about yourself and what inspired you to share this idea.

I am an architect who has had the privilege of working with entrepreneurial educators from early childhood to higher education.  During this COVID crisis, I have seen blended learning schools flourish, where students have the independence and agency to take ownership of their learning. At the same time, I have seen traditional schools with stellar reputations struggle when their playbook quickly became obsolete.

What region are you located in?

  • North America

Where are you located?



Join the conversation:

Photo of Denis O'Brien

Lawrence. For a different approach to a stable educational life look at this ... Shadow's Edge (AR) - Building Resilience and Sharing Empathy Through Gaming 

Photo of Lawrence Kearns

Will do. Thanks, Denis.

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