A transnational program to synthesize the best of research and development into the nature of human learning, and to examine its implication for education, work, and the development of communities worldwide.

A Work in Progress

Mounting evidence worldwide suggests that traditional education systems are increasingly becoming dysfunctional in the face of escalating technological, social and economic change. Profound questions are being asked to why so many young people seem so ill-prepared for work, or for participation within Civil Society.

Daunting as these issues are, a growing number of world-class researchers, educational innovators, thinkers, and policymakers from various lands, together with concerned funders, have started to meet together under the auspices of this Initiative, as they believe solutions await development. They are convinced that change can and will take place if they take collective action to exploit die new insights emerging from an ever increasing array of research into just how it is that people leam-how-to-learn (and thereby develop real understanding and transferable skills), and then link these findings with the experience gained from some highly successful innovative practices worldwide.

The Initiative was registered in June, 1996, as a 501©(3) organization in the United States. It was initially set-up by the Education 2000 Trust in the United Kingdom after discussions with a number of key research organizations and individuals from several lands, which had extended over the previous three years. The fohnson Foundation of Wisconsin has taken the unprecedented step of committing support for multiple Wingspread Conferences over a five year period. A serviced Washington Office has been provided by Rothschild Natural Resources, LLC.

Purpose Statement

“Identity is the source of organization. Every organization is an identity in motion, moving through the world, trying to make a difference. Therefore, the most important work we can do at the beginning of an organizing effort is to engage one another in exploring our purpose. ”

A Simpler Way (1996)

The 21st Century Learning Initiative’s essential purpose is to facilitate the emergence of new approaches to learning that draw upon a range of insights into the human brain, the functioning of human societies, and learning as a self-organizing activity. We believe this will release human potential in ways that nurture and form democratic communities worldwide, and will help reclaim and sustain a world supportive of human endeavor.

At all levels sodety is undergoing massive economic, technological, social and political changes that challenge traditional values, beliefs, and institutional arrangements.

It is becoming dearer that these changes are in themselves all interconnected and reflect the move away from the analytical and reductionist era in science towards the beginning of a more integrative and interwoven understanding of natural phenomena, social structures and the operation of organizations. We now understand more about the brain and how it grows; the mind and how it shapes itself; and intelligence and how it expresses itself. Indeed, we now have a radically different picture of ow life emerged, evolved and continues to change as a result of this interwoven web. Humankind has a new place in the universe which is more purposeful, more creative – even sacred – than that which we had previously understood. The significance of collaboration, diversity and continuous learning within organizations is becoming increasingly valued. All this changes the way we see ourselves and the way we perceive the world.

This world of endless interconnections is fast reaching a point of self- transformation. It is not just the political realm, or the economic, or even the scientific or spiritual realms, but all of these elements of human experience that are changing. Western Civilization, and probably World Civilizations, is on the cusp of a metamorphosis.

It is on our ability to grasp, to understand and to realize these ideas – in truth to demonstrate anew the power of human learning – that will enable us to change, and shape our futures.

Knowing what we now know, members of The Initiative believe, we simply can no longer do what we now do.

The Initiative

“By conventional standards what we have asked of ourselves is impossible, but we are here to think unconventionally, so lam hopeful that we will succeed in some way. ”

Karlheinz Duerr (1996)

The 21st Century Learning Initiative held its first planning meeting in November, 1995, and a second in April, 1996. The first full Conferences then followed in July and November of 1996. So far 40 people have participated in one or more of these meetings. They have come from 10 different countries (appendix is attached). A Bibliography of more than 300 recently published books and hundreds of articles has been created as The Synthesis has developed.

On the basis of the discussions that took place during these meetings, and all the ideas and papers that members of the Initiative have exchanged between times, the following five point Action Plan has been formulated.

Action Plan:

“if we apply the wrong mode of learning for the best of reasons we will not get the results we seek. ”

The Synthesis (1996)

The 21st Century Learning Initiative, through conferences at Wingspread and in various other ways, will:

1) synthesize and clarify the ideas emerging from a range ofsdences as to the nature of human learning, and layout the implications of these for the future of a whole range of sodal and institutional arrangements.

2) share, at an early stage, its findings with a number of influential policymakers from several countries, and stimulate a transnational dialogue about the practical implications of such ideas.

3) with others, establish ways of providing initial training, stimulation, and education for a select number of “learning community fadlitators” (from several countries) on whom these ideas will be much dependent for successful implementation. Make arrangements for these people, and the programs they lead, to develop collaborative networks with access to appropriate transnational resources.

4) with others, find ways to document and evaluate the progress of these ideas, and disseminate best practice both among policymakers and educational practitioners.

5) disseminate these ideas as widely as possible to the general public so as to encourage as rapid an adoption of these concepts as possible, adapted to meet the needs of different communities.

This Paper represents the current draft of The Synthesis; that’s action point one. The outline descriptions of action points two through five are expanded on page 29.