Building Learning Communities

Building Learning Communities Join us for a hands-on learning opportunity to design and build your own learning community. This learning community could take many forms: School, Afterschool, Micro school, Alt school, Workshop/Makerspace, Incubator/Accelerator, Conference, Unconference, Hackathon, Book club, Discussion group, Team, Camp, Library, Unschool, Tutoring

The goals of this experience are to:
-Rigorously explore what learning can look like beyond traditional schooling
-Empower students to become designers and take control
-Design communities that reflect a range of values, such as equity, service, autonomy
-Build / pilot these communities, so students can learn from experience and data what works
-Invite participants from beyond MIT to join these built learning communities as student testers, including from Cambridge and surrounding cities
-Read about and discuss what makes learning deep, engaging, powerful, lifelong, fair, transformative
-Consider how learning design can arise from a community’s needs and desires (and evolve with them)
-Learn to work in teams to create a shared vision and implement it
-Show a broader community of educators that we have been narrow in our thinking of what learning looks like, and inspire adoption of innovative techniques


As a society, we are considering how to remove systemic barriers to equal participation and opportunity, which exist along many dimensions, including race, gender, and SES. We will encourage students to reflect on how their designed communities are inclusive and equitable.

Learning systems that rely on shame, fear, and humiliation can turn students off to learning for the rest of their lives. In its worst form, it can make students dislike themselves, eroding wellbeing. We will encourage students to design communities that build up participants, founded in valuing their dignity.

Learners traditionally have only limited ability to direct their studies, perhaps choosing from a small set of elective courses or choosing the topic of a paper. This prevents many learners from developing strong intrinsic motivation for their work, especially those who would prefer to explore in different directions that are more personally relevant. We will encourage students to reflect on how community norms and structures can support interest, engagement, personal relevance, and autonomy.

Too often, students cram for tests, achieving only shallow understanding, rarely used and quickly forgotten. We prioritize authentic growth, deeply integrated into long-term values and identities. We encourage learning something meaningful long enough to achieve satisfying and useful proficiency, knowing that there is always room to learn more.

We face many challenges locally and globally, with COVID-19 only the latest example. Too often, traditional K-12 learning has limited its purview to subjects and activities disconnected from the needs of the world around it. We will encourage students to reflect on how learning in their communities can directly engage with issues of the day, with learners empowered to effect social change.
Dan Pink highlights Autonomy, Mastery, and Purpose in his book Drive as the keys to intrinsic motivation.


Students will begin by imagining a learning community they would like to create. They can draw inspiration from many sources, including:
-Personal experience
-Current interests
-Exploring examples of innovative learning communities
-Reading research and theories about learning principles and design of successful communities
-Comparing notes with other students

Once students have a design document that is sufficiently specific and realistically scaled, they can begin the implementation phase, including advertising, recruiting, event planning, and other logistics. During COVID-19, implementations will likely be virtual. Their learning communities can be live for some number of days – long enough to give deep insight into what works, and short enough to fit into the time constraints of their other classes.

During and after running their learning community, students will reflect on what worked well, what didn’t work, what matched their expectations, what surprised them, and what they would do differently if running it again. In this way, students will also be able to utilize each others’ understanding and emerging expertise.
They will document their implementation, including photos, screenshots, illustrations, written descriptions, etc., and upload to a shared website so the broader community and future cohorts can learn from their experience. The website will list the values that informed the school design, so others can search by value. This resource may inspire others to build on this work.
We will further evaluate and reflect on the impact of the program, through students reached (within MIT and without), designs produced, insights gained, and attitudinal shifts.

Two staff will support students through their learning experiences. We plan to structure the beginning of the experience to offer opportunities for teaming (if interested), whether through a desire for shared outcomes or a similar value orientation. We will provide a sense of the arc of the learning design cycle, as well as tools and organizational pathways that can offer support for students’ ongoing reflection and iterative work. We will meet regularly to check in, but will reserve the bulk of the ongoing discussion for students to engage with each other (for which we can provide help, protocols).

Dan Roy, Research Scientist, MIT Education Arcade / STEP (
Dan Roy is a research scientist at the Education Arcade, designing playful learning experiences for teachers and students alike. He is the lead game designer on the CLEVR project, inviting high school biology students to explore a cell in VR and collaboratively diagnose and treat a genetic disorder. He is writing a report about learning with XR in K-12 settings. Dan is also the founder of Skylight Games, a social enterprise inspiring a love of learning through play, starting with languages (Lyriko). Before his current roles, he worked with the MIT Teaching Systems Lab (Eliciting Learner Knowledge), MIT Playful Journey Lab (WW Graduate School of Teaching and Learning), Learning Games Network on games to teach language (Xenos) and science (Food Fight, Guts and Bolts), and with the Education Arcade, helping middle-schoolers build curiosity, intuition, and comfort in math through puzzles (Lure of The Labyrinth). He has an SM in comparative media studies from MIT and a BS in computer science from UMass Amherst.

Alex Hargroder, Project Based Learning Coach and Designer, MIT TEA / STEP (
Alex came to MIT after ten years in public education as a high school English teacher, instructional coach, and assistant principal in Louisiana and Texas. He is a Teach For America alumnus and has experience developing curricula, training and coaching teachers, and has recently worked on projects involving wrap-around student support, trauma-sensitive and restorative practices, project-based learning, career-technical education, and community partnerships. His current interests are related primarily to issues of equity and creating transformational learning experiences for students and teachers. He is also a co-founder and board chair for the philosophy outreach program Corrupt the Youth. He holds a BA in English from Louisiana State University and an MEd in educational leadership from the University of Texas at Arlington.

This program will be open to all MIT undergraduates, including first years. Students will sign up for IAP or Spring 2021, working full time during IAP or at least 8 hours/week for the full semester. We will open enrollment to up to 40 students, paid via stipend.

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