The Learner’s Guild

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Education is no longer the simple concern of local officials pleasing the State Board of Education with adequate test scores. Education is a global battle for relevant jobs requiring high-speed, modern skill sets that drive innovation and change. In time, education will become the framework for each child to discover his/her full potential in an economy that values creativity and ingenuity over labor and rote skills.

It is no longer good enough to remember knowledge; learners must now create new, deep knowledge that advances the understanding of any field of knowledge.  Researchers at the cutting edge of discovery don’t have time for textbooks to catch up with their findings; they simply start a blog to disseminate their work.  Researchers in the field have websites where current research is unfolding each day in real-time.  Learners interested in the work can log-on and actually participate in the research on a daily basis.  There are few limits anymore to gathering knowledge from active research and textbooks are so outdated compared to current discoveries that we should trade in the science textbooks for Internet access.

Just the daily summaries of the data processed from the Hubble telescope make everything we thought we knew about astrophysics obsolete within a year.  The Hubble telescope has revealed super-massive black holes at the center of every galaxy and this has rewritten the description of the creation of the universe.  Knowledge is changing daily and learners can’t be left in the dark in outdated theories and suppositions that are the limits of our previous thinking.  We need new researchers creating new information that can make a difference in life.  Innovation is born from creative minds who hopefully won’t be given outdated theories to construct the future universe with.

The most long-lasting, practical form of education that we know of is the guild.  In ancient times, master craftsman joined together to create guilds for specific jobs.  An aspiring master craftsman would have to pass through the career chain from apprentice to journeyman before he could be elected to become a master craftsman. After he passed the apprenticeship and journeyman stages of learning, he would often have to donate a sum of money to the guild and produce a masterpiece acceptable to the other master craftsmen before actually being accepted into the guild. If his masterpiece was not acceptable to the guild, he may have to remain a journeyman for the rest of his life. This ensured high standards in the profession and the quality of work produced.

Many trades continue the apprentice-journeyman-master model to this very day.  Electricians, pipe fitters and plumbers still use a modified form of guild training in their trades. Even in college, the guild system is still used with undergraduates being apprentices, post-graduates being journeymen, and professors as masters. The doctoral thesis is the modern form of the masterpiece.

After being employed by a master for several years, and after producing a qualifying piece of work, the apprentice was granted the rank of journeyman and was given documents that certified him as a journeyman and entitled him to travel to other towns to learn from other masters. These journeys were one way to communicate new methods and techniques throughout the guild. The efforts of the journeymen connected the efforts of the master craftsmen throughout the guild.

In some small way, American schools tend to do something similar to guilds in the standard school setting. Students (apprentices) remain with the master (teacher) for at least a year (more in some systems-looping) while they take in what that teacher develops as the foundational, basic skills.  After a number of years in this setting (lower school), students go to middle or high school where they (journeymen) travel from teacher (master) to teacher to learn their style and expertise. Each teacher (master craftsman) is an expert in his or her area (subject). Students produce “work” for the different teachers and in the end (graduation), when all of the teachers (masters) cast their votes (grades) for the journeymen – they may be promoted to the level of graduate.  Then the student can begin college and work through the same system until they can produce the masterpiece needed to be raised up to the level of a master.

Our Learner’s Guild has some of the same characteristics utilized in the ancient guild system and the modern American system of education. Each learner is called a “Researcher” who is much like an entered apprentice who is learning a new trade. The Learner’s Guild provides the researcher with direct assistance from a “Mentor” who is a facilitator that occasionally looks like a journeyman for the sake of illustrating the dialectic process of learning for the new apprentice. Other apprentices who are not so new at the dialectic process are there to help the new apprentice find their way and manage the technical equipment (computer) that will become the major tool of the trade.

The new apprentice chooses a subject that is of “high interest” and begins to follow the process of information gathering, resource development, and research focus that accompanies all projects. The mentor, or the other researchers, can initially help answer technical questions, share resources and focus research methods to help the new researcher get started.  Once the field of knowledge is laid out before the new researcher and clear research questions arise out of the researcher’s interests or background knowledge, the researcher is ready to begin making contact with “Experts” in the field (master craftsmen).

There is no limit to the type or number of experts a researcher may contact during a project. Active archeological digs, biology field research in the rain forests, and current stellar mapping from an observatory are all possible scenarios for researchers to tap into through the Internet. Classroom Connect has hundreds of options of live, interactive field-research for students to participate in. Many experts in the field invite student interaction on their websites. Researchers are also encouraged to personally connect with experts in their area to see just how things are done in the field. Opportunities for job shadowing, work-study, or simply apprenticing are all available methods to learn from the experts. Often, the experts enjoy apprentices due to their open-mindedness and fresh way of looking at old problems.

Throughout the entire project, mentors help focus the research so that the depth and breath of the subject is explored thoroughly. Mentors help reinforce the core academic skills through the skill development aspects of the project and they make sure that the project is meaningful and interesting to the researcher. Mentors help mid-wife the project, though the learning and motive force comes from the researcher. Mentors need to know the process well so that they can lead the researcher and yet allow for independent discovery learning and direct experience. Researchers and mentors negotiate the direction of the project and support services are provided by other researchers, mentors, and experts.

Mentors also have the job of being a learner in the process of facilitating a project for a researcher.  Researchers can model their research after the process shared with them by mentors.  In the end, the new researcher becomes an experienced researcher who then can help other new researchers learn the process of developing a project in our Learner’s Guild.

In effect, the Learner’s Guild takes education out of the classroom and the school building and makes the world the laboratory of learning.  Now, students (researchers) are no longer limited by the knowledge of their school’s teachers but are immersed in real life research with experts around the world. 

Apprentice       →       Journeyman       →     Master craftsman


Researcher      →       Mentor          →            Expert


Student          →         Facilitator         →        Teacher (Master)

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