The Modern Learning Exchange

August 12, 2008 at 5:16 pm Leave a comment

Ever since I read about the Learning Exchange in John Holt‘s Instead of Education, I have been fascinated with the idea. The Learning Exchange was started during the 1970’s by two folks in Evanston, Illinois (close to my home town) who had been greatly influenced by Ivan Illich’s Deschooling Society.

The premise of the Learning Exchange was simple, but very promising. It was based off of the idea that information generally controlled by “higher institutions” is also held amongst ordinary everyday people, but just that there is no structured way for people to share this information – and thus the monopoly of knowledge remains within the institutions. The folks who started the Learning Exchange thought that if such a structure were put into place, where ordinary people could share knowledge and teach one another, the people would take advantage of such a possibility. And they were right.

The Learning Exchange began with the notion that everyone has something to teach and something they want to learn. They worked by asking people to offer something they could teach and something they wanted to learn (a pair). For the sake of this, let’s say an individual wanted to learn biology and knew/could teach Spanish. This individual would call the Learning Exchange’s toll free number and see if there was a match (someone who knew Biology and wanted to learn Spanish). These two individuals would be put in contact with one another and then would teach/learn their knowledge. Extremely simple, but it exploded all across Chicago.

Eventually, the Learning Exchange got too large and some fees were instituted if member’s wanted faster access (which introduced hierarchy amongst participants). During the seventies, most of the Learning Exchange’s structure, contacting, and networking was done via phone – and an individual who worked for the Learning Exchange would have to sort through files and individually pair people up. This became a very large task for a small number of people who were trying to offer a free service for universal access to human knowledge, and thus the need to institute fees (in order for people to be able to work full time, get supplies, etc.). However, in modern times, with the advent of the computer and the internet, a lot of these problems that the learning exchange faced – that caused it to institute fees – could be easily organized on a website and a computer database.

Free schools, or other learning-missions, could adopt this model in one form or another while using structures such as Craigslist or Freecycle (but of course more community based, knowledge-sharing based, and personalized). This would allow people to self-organize and be able to share knowledge amongst themselves outside of already established institutions. I also think that such a possibility of the Modern Learning Exchange could go beyond that of the Learning Exchange that was started in Evanston, Illinois. Individuals could even use such a tool if they just wanted to learn something, teach something, or do group learning and teaching.

The knowledge and information that is locked away in our institutions, that come with price tags in the thousands of dollars, are held by everyday people in our communities. A Modern Learning Exchange in every community could help break away this monopoly of knowledge and help forge community based learning and sharing of information. I strongly encourage free schools, and all other alternative learning projects and organizations, to look into such a possibility: whether it be a big board in a learning center where folks write “I know this, I want to learn this, contact me” or an organized website. As in every situation, every community’s needs are not exactly the same so the solutions are different, but the general concept of the Learning Exchange can be molded into many different formats. It is a concept that allows individuals and groups to unlock the plethora of information and knowledge that we hold as communities.


Entry filed under: General Free Schooling, Learning, Related To Free Schooling, Teaching. Tags: , , , , .

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