WeLearn: By Teachers for Teachers (An Organic, Ground Up Innovation)

GroundUpInnovationInnovation is a highly prized ingredient in any high performing school system. I find it interesting then, when government and/or school systems mandate school participation in ‘innovation projects’ and expect a significant impact on school-wide learning. Contrary to this approach is the idea of ground up innovation, where innovation occurs naturally based on an observed need within a learning community and is encouraged and supported by government or school systems.

A few years ago I was at a conference with a colleague and we were keen to find out more about digital pedagogy. A number of gurus were able to articulate their understanding of digital pedagogy and what it should look like in a classroom, but no-one could actually show us. The recurring message was something like: “It should have these elements; you would need to have these intentions” and so on.

This became a provocation for us to explore. We analysed what was available online and came up with an inquiry question: How might we create a ubiquitous resource for teachers that enhances individual and collective capacity (knowledge, skillset and toolset) in digital pedagogy? After seeking some critique, we then changed it from digital pedagogy to ‘best practice pedagogy’ (the broader, the better).Screen Shot 2017-03-16 at 3.44.25 PM

And so the seed for WeLearn was born. From our humble beginnings of two (@jamiewahab and me), we now have over five hundred users and more than one hundred high quality best practice videos. This link takes you to our WeLearn promotion video created by one of our talented WeLearn administrators Christine Kodomichalos.

This post is not just about the WeLearn site for best practice pedagogy. It is also about organic ground-up innovation, hence its inclusion on our Organic Learning Blog. Ground up innovations are inherently organic as they are borne out of a genuine identified need: ‘we needed to learn more about digital pedagogy’. It is not an imposed innovation from external bodies pushing a predefined agenda: ‘you need to learn more about digital pedagogy’.


Our WeLearn innovation exemplifies the Organic Learning Cycle. Our Explore phase included gathering authentic data, which led to our self-determined need to investigate digital pedagogy.

Once data was gathered, it was analysed. Connections were made and defined, and we pitched our first provocation and received critique. We then began to Create possible frameworks for how WeLearn could look and operate and we constantly revised our ideas until we refined it to ‘best practice pedagogy’.

We enlisted some highly skilled teacher collaborators and began to Innovate by making videos and creating a physical site. This became the first of many prototypes, which we continue to critique and refine to this day, based on the Impact of our innovation. I invite you to join and explore the site at your leisure, but I promise once you start viewing it does become addictive as there are so many fantastic strategies for teachers to dip into.

We are currently redesigning the WeLearn site with a greater emphasis on what we have called 90 Seconds of PD. We do have some videos that run for 3-5 minutes, but 90 seconds appears to be ‘just right’ for quickly learning something new. Wall of Pride is an example of 90 Seconds of PD. To get full access to the site, you need to request a login.

In March 2017, we presented WeLearn at the 21 Century Learning Conference in Hong Kong and signed up our first teachers from Asia. Up until that time, we had never advertised the site on twitter or any other medium. It has grown by word of mouth and through workshops for teachers in neighbouring schools, funded by Sydney Catholic Schools.

So how does a ground-up innovation like WeLearn gather momentum and reach what Malcolm Gladwell refers to as a ‘tipping point‘ and begin to take on a life of its own (not that WeLearn has reached epidemic levels)? Contributing to a site like WeLearn is quite an onerous task. Apart from having the time to film, edit and receive strong critique on a skillset identified by you, it takes a courageous teacher to put their reputation on the line for judgement by their peers. Yet in two years, we have more than one hundred high-quality videos available on our site to be shared and watched over and over again.

I really believe teachers who are successful in getting their video onto the site definitely have what Carol Dweck identifies as a growth mindset and possess the qualities of what Hase & Kenyon refer to as a self-determined learner. These are teachers who have the initiative and capacity to take full control of what they need to learn and how to learn it, the agency to overcome setbacks and failures, the insatiable desire to learn, and the confidence to share their learning with others for the sake of raising the collective capacity of teachers and improving student learning for all students. Their focus is not about self-importance, but about learning and the exhilaration that comes from learning that is so perfectly described by Jason Silva as cognitive ecstasy.

We need to find those teachers who are self-determined learners and provide them with opportunities to ‘innovate’ individually or collectively. They are the ones who can help take us out of old educational paradigms and help us create a new one. We need to explore how we can create Self-Determined Learning Communities that can challenge the status quo whilst contributing to not only ‘best practice’, but ‘next practice’ system/nation-wide learning.


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