Leaders of Learning

My Theory of Learning

There are four extreme versions of learning that can be broken down into the following categories: Hierarchical Individual, Hierarchical Collective, Distributed Individual, and Distributed Collective.[1] Each of these quadrants consider a mode of learning on an individual level versus viewing learning as a social activity, and whether one views the learning framework to be best achieved through a traditional system (e.g., K-12 conventional school) or via a mode that promotes the theory that humans are natural learners.[2] Before participating in the HarvardX’s Leaders for Learning course, I took the Modes of Learning Assessment, and I scored highest in the Hierarchical Individual Quadrant (68.25%). That came as no surprise since a majority of my education was provided in a formal, hierarchical mode. After completing the course, and when prompted to retake the questions, it was fascinating to find that I scored the exact same percentage for all four quadrants. However, I did not individually rank each survey question’s answer the same. And after participation in the class, I am not so certain that my personal mindset is one of Hierarchical Individual being the best mode of learning.[3]  

With that said, I believe that people learn best when they are given set expectations and learning outcomes and when the onus is put on the individual to obtain mastery of the set curricula; however, I believe that learners should be given the ability to determine what knowledge is needed to foster intrinsic motivation to learn and to ascertain what knowledge is needed to ultimately enter and job or profession of their choosing.  


[1] HarvardX, What is the Modes of Learning Framework? (Feb. 24, 2022), https://learning.edx.org/course/course-v1:HarvardX+GSE2x+2T2021/blockv1:HarvardX+GSE2x+2T2021+type@sequential+block@3fd2610b95d04509bb6721f03d9ad537/blockv1:HarvardX+GSE2x+2T2021+type@vertical+block@25f53a2273374ce8af9a806a2975a1c6.

[2] Id.; see also HarvardX, What is the Distributed Individual Quadrant?, https://learning.edx.org/course/coursev1:HarvardX+GSE2x+2T2021/blockv1:HarvardX+GSE2x+2T2021+type@sequential+block@082df8beea9a49b5b2f469c7d2df3f75/blockv1:HarvardX+GSE2x+2T2021+type@vertical+block@d99cd52e2bd34f2092ab1c31a 481cbe3.

[3] HarvardX, What is the Modes of Learning Framework? (Feb. 24, 2022), https://learning.edx.org/course/coursev1:HarvardX+GSE2x+2T2021/blockv1:HarvardX+GSE2x+2T2021+type@sequential+block@3fd2610b95d04509bb6721f03d9ad537/blockv1:HarvardX+GSE2x+2T2021+type@vertical+block@25f53a2273374ce8af9a806a2975a1c6 (Professor Richard Elmore stating that most people migrate between the four quadrants). In addition, it did not come as a surprise to me that I fell into the Hierarchal Individual category because of my background of traditional, hierarchical schooling and the fact that I currently am a professor of law (much of law school still following that mode of learning and design).


The Physical Space to Lead This Type of Learning

As noted above, I fall somewhere in the middle (probably not exactly in the center, though) for wanting some components of a traditional, hierarchical design structure and that of a distributed design structure. Taking inspiration from my current job, profession, and education, lawyers (as with other professions that seek licensure) need to be competent in certain substantive areas. On the other hand, one should also be an active member of the community continuing to learn in specialty and new-practice areas.

To achieve this vision, this is an overview of what my ideal physical space would look like:

Figure 1
Figure 2
Figure 3
Figure 4
Figure 5

Figure 6

Figure 1: Spaces with movable desks and different seating that allows for collaborative learning between students and teachers. It allows for group work and for individual study in a comfortable learning atmosphere.[1]

Figure 2: Traditional study spaces would be provided but not hard chairs accompanied by single desks. The design in these areas would allow for the moving of the chairs and workspaces so students would not be in lines all looking to one person in the front of a classroom.[2]

Figure 3: Teacher, administrative personnel, and student work areas would be interspersed to create a sense of community between teachers and learners. Rather than closed off rooms, office walls would have glass partitions to allow for a sense of openness and natural light.[3] Note that there would be a few offices and meeting rooms that had shades or solid walls for student, administrative personnel, and teacher privacy (when needed).   

Figure 4: The learning spaces would be centered around a common area that would allow for discussion and interactions between students in different grades. The communal area would be a place for clubs, formed around common interests, to meet and for student, staff, and guest dining.[4]  

Figure 5: There would be designated space for interaction between students, teachers, parents, and other community members. The spaces could be used for mixed art classes, sports teams, community service initiatives, and community gardens, to name a few.[5]

Figure 6: There will be areas where students will blend between the physical spaces and the digital environment. This would allow for students, and the teachers on the physical campus, to interact with other students and teachers from around the country and world.[6]

No doubt that these “ideal” design areas will change with additional technology advances, innovation, and new ideas developed by professionals and leaders in the learning-design realm.


[1] See Smith System, It’s not just the shape of the school desk that matters – consider its construction, https://smithsystem.com/school-desks-tables/.

[2] FOTOSTOCK, Auditorium seating lectern Stock Photos and Images, https://www.agefotostock.com/age/en/Stock-Images/auditorium-seating-lectern.html.

[3] BUILDINGS, 5 Benefits of Glass Partition Walls, https://www.buildings.com/articles/27794/5-benefits-glass-partition-walls.

[4] wework Ideas, Seven office common areas that make a good first impression,  https://www.wework.com/ideas/workspace-solutions/flexible-products/office-common-areas.

[5] 123RF, Community Outreach Stock Photos And Images, https://www.123rf.com/clipart-vector/community_outreach.html?sti=n6yu2ojd9q6pcjds44|.

[6] oeb Insights, The ‘Phygital’ Experience. Bridging the Divide Between the Physical and Digital Environment, https://oeb.global/oeb-insights/the-phygital-experience-bridging-the-divide-between-the-physical-and-digital-environment/.


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