As learning frameworks outlining ambitious global agendas for inclusive education and lifelong learning begin to emerge, and as societies become more connected and intertwined, it is becoming clear that society has a collective role to play in equipping people to create meaningful futures, through lifelong learning. Deriving from the field of evolutionary biology, an ‘ecosystem’ is a community of interdependent organisms acting in conjunction with the natural environment. Over the last decade, the term has proliferated as a metaphor for thinking differently about the future of education, moving beyond a top-down systems approach. The power of this metaphor has led both to a richness of debate and some confusion about what is meant by the term. We offer a simple typology of ecosystem, to bring clarity to the work and support others navigating this territory:
1 – Knowledge sharing ecosystems
This type of ecosystem comprises complex, evolving networks of organizations including think tanks, foundations, governmental and global agencies and others who are consciously connecting to facilitate the sharing of new knowledge about education and learning, innovation, funding opportunities, and more. It is largely concerned with building the global shared knowledge base, scaling innovation and enabling the better use of resources and opportunities to tackle shared global learning challenges, not only within but between networks.
2 – Innovation ecosystems
Some cities and regions are involved in designing deliberate conditions that drive and accelerate radical innovation – such as new designs for schooling – through the combination of multiple players, policies and platforms. These innovation ecosystems tend to contain traditional and new education providers, formal and informal learning opportunities, the involvement of business, edtech developers and providers and higher education, and are supported by digital technology.
3 – Learning ecosystems
Learning ecosystems comprise diverse combinations of providers (schools, businesses, community organizations as well as government agencies) creating new learning opportunities and pathways to success. They are usually supported by an innovative credentialing system or technology platforms that replace or augment the traditional linear system of examinations and graduation. They need not, however, be confined to their geographic location in terms of resources overall. They may exploit the technologies now available to choreograph global learning resources.