Education in Latin America

Invitation to Design a School Using Social Learning

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One of the experts at a recent educational conference told us that we have to use more constructivist teaching strategies in order to engage students in their own learning. “And why don’t you do that here with us?” I thought. “Don’t tell us, show us how!


Reading my column from last week again, I remembered that conference. I wrote, “’Hard fun’ (social learning) in collaboration with peers is something that we as educators must strive to include as an important educational strategy in order to promote student engagement in learning.”


Don’t tell us! Show us how!


There are no lack of examples of social learning. It can be observed in action every day, among the millions of “prosumers” who inhabit the social networks, both producing and consuming content. Informal groups are organized around problems of mutual interest. Citizen power is exercised effectively to pressure for more governmental transparency. When Aristegui first broke the story of the “white house” – the mansion in Las Lomas bought by Mexico’s first lady from a major governmental contractor – the first reaction of the president’s team was to try to smother the story, then to get Carmen Aristegui fired. The overwhelming response on Facebook, Twitter and a multiplicity of other forums was immediate, following hashtags such as #yosoycarmen and #quenosetepase. Recently, due to pressures on social media and tweets to legislators, the final draft of the anticorruption law turned out to be stricter than the initial proposal.


Social learning is characterized by the free sharing of content, openness to participation and collaboration by all, the wisdom of the crowd, and shared trust generated by a freely accessible digital reputation.


Plutarch stated that the mind is not a vessel that needs filling, but wood that needs igniting. In spite of the antiquity of this vision, our schools have not yet caught the spark. They haven’t come far from the methods used in the nineteenth century to teach our great-great grandparents. Social learning does, in fact, light a flame in the mind because participants learn so they can act, and then, judging by the results, figure out what they need to learn next. Clay Shirky, in his book Here Comes Everybody claims that sharing on social media inevitably leads to collaboration, and collaboration leads to action.


I confess I haven’t implemented social learning as the predominant learning strategy in any school I have directed. I did motivate and help teachers to incorporate more real-life problem solving in collaborative groups of students. But how would a school in Mexico work with problem-based collaborative learning as a predominant teaching methodology? Could it be done with the blessing of the SEP? And with costs per student similar to Mexican public schools? This last question is relevant because an educational model with costs far exceeding those that the government spends per pupil would not have any transcendence as an alternative to current public education. Annual per-pupil costs reported by INEE for 2012 were 15,500 pesos in preschool, 14,100 pesos in elementary, 21,816 pesos in secondary grades and 30,502 pesos in high school. Rate of increase in recent years has been approximately 0.5%. (http://tinyurl.com/k6pqfvj)


It would be interesting for a virtual community of educators to come together to design a school in every detail as a social learning project. I recommend looking carefully at the example of the Innova Schools of Peru as a way to keep costs down in implementing a program based on student collaborative problem solving and skills and content learning through digital learning programs such as Kahn Academy and YouTube (which will soon have more than 34 thousand educational videos in Spanish for all levels of learners). Innova Schools enroll 60 students per grade, but only need three teachers for two grades. While groups of 30 are with one teacher each for social learning time, another group of 60 is with one teacher working at their own pace through digital learning programs. Having three teachers for two grades instead of four creates the opportunity to pay teachers a bit more than they might make elsewhere and to provide more professional development, especially in school-wide protocols (“this is the way we teach here”).


It would be important to convince the SEP that the program of studies would be covered, and at the same time complete a thorough curricular review to identify which of the designated standards and objectives are most important so that these could be the basis of in-depth problem-based study.

That’s as far as I’ve come in considering the problem. Does anyone else have good ideas to share with regard to developing a school implementing social learning and collaborative problem-based pedagogy? I would love to hear from you, and promise to send a summary of your comments and suggestions to all participants. Twitter @ejspin. #escuelaaprendizajesocial

Author: ejspin

He sido Director General de Colegios Internacionales en Mexico, Bolivia, Colombia, Paraguay y Venezuela y he participado en reforma educativa en todos estos paises. Middle School Principal en Estados Unidos. Doctorado en Liderazgo Educativo. Actualmente vivo en México.

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