Not school or homeschooling, but Modular Learning

Meet the new wave of teachers, artists and techies who are reinventing K-12 education one kid at a time

For the last 20 years, I’ve taught over 2000 children in 3 countries. I pioneered an English language program in an impoverished area is the Middle East. I’ve worked as a public school teacher at some of the highest and lowest performing public schools in all five boroughs. I’ve helped hundreds of parents start microschools (or learning pods) and I’ve tutored 18 subjects to some of the wealthiest families in NYC, San Francisco and Paris to make up for failings in private schools they were paying up to $60,000 a year to attend. Most recently, I founded a virtual learning program to help families through the pandemic and a hotline that served 100,000 families impacted by school closures.

Based on what I’ve observed in my experience in this wide array of educational settings is that that there are thousands of extraordinary people working diligently to fulfill a very unambitious goal. From what I’ve seen, the goal of school is to do an adequate job preparing our future workforce to do jobs that were relevant yesterday. Though more often than not, school is actually still optimized to prepare kids to work in industrialized factories. Or at best, schools may aim to prepare kids for currently relevant jobs in tech which are bound to also be obsolete when they actually join the workforce in 5–10 years, taking our inflexible school system another 100 years to catch up to prepare kids for what were our most needed careers today which by that time will also be obsolete.

The second goal appears to be to do the bare minimum to help parents in the current work force take care of education, childcare and their children’s social needs all at once in one place, and miserably failing by trying to be all things to all people, serving active complainers at a bare minimum and leaving less vocal or influential communities behind. While it would be wonderful to hear a parent say that school provided fantastic childcare that allowed them to thrive at work, gave their children a vibrant, healthy social-emotional life or intellectually rigorous and engaging educational experience that made them love learning and prepared them to achieve any goal they set their minds to, these testimonials are few and far between and rarely all three at the same time. What we see more often is parents scrambling to find after-school activities or babysitters to fill childcare gaps, seeking counselors to heal emotional wounds from bullying and racism at school or hiring tutors to help kids catch up with class work or appeal to a learning style that deviates even a fraction of a degree from the norm. Students may also benefit from free services at libraries or non-profits that are also generally structured to help them catch up with class work, sometimes and at best ensuring they perform well on standardized exams, graduate from high school and attend college, but not necessarily correlating with the cultivation of skills like autonomy and creativity.

Unfortunately, parents who’ve reached their breaking point and opt out often end up fearfully re-creating the whole thing in their own home or learning pod, relying on standardized curriculum and a typical 9–3 schedule , assuming school must be doing something right or at least have some correct underlying assumptions, all the whole not quite able to pinpoint what that right thing is.

And yet, there is a new emerging movement of families, many of them teachers, some techies, artists (of all income levels and walks of life) who have had a sort of spiritual awakening around their children’s education, realizing there are no compelling underlying assumptions in the current education system, that they are perfectly capable of providing a better and more affordable education, childcare and social experience for their children on their own.

Let’s call them Modular Learners

Rather than taking place at one institution at one time using a standardized curriculum. Modular learners set their own goals for their children’s education, childcare and social life, creating a unique mosaic of resources , drawing from digital apps, workbooks, teachers, experts, other families, local classes, community groups, cultural organizations and even world travel. It’s a diverse and inclusive community of teachers, artists, makers, investors, healthcare workers, techies, community activists applying innovative education techniques as they emerge and pioneering the future of education starting with their own children.

It’s not school, because most of the education happens outside the classroom . And it’s not homeschooling, because much of the education happens outside the home and some of the children have school as part of their mosaic. It’s also not remote school, because education is often a mix of in-person and virtual experiences. Rather than isolate themselves , these families band together to share ideas, resources, skills and childcare too. They form robust, inclusive, diverse and exciting communities where new ideas are circulating all the time.

Modular learning is innovative, cutting-edge approach learning designed by families who are fed up with what’s available to them and/or deeply curious about exploring new models as they emerge.

Some of these families have found their 4 year old does the entire PreK-5th grade curriculum in 6 months using a digital learning app.

Some of these families form cooperatives where a science professor teaches science, an engineer forms a maker space, an artist gives water color classes and they all pool together to hire a local college student to teach chess.

Some of them travel the world, visiting museums and historical sites, complimented by workbooks and apps to give their child a well-rounded education.

Some of these families have no college education and others have PHD’s. They are of all races, nationalities and income levels. Some are teachers and others have zero teaching experience, never having taught or even spent time with other kids than their own. Some are extroverted and others are introverted. However, as this new learning movement has emerged, so have the tools to support it workbooks: apps, parent guides, teacher scripts, for anyone wanting to play a bigger role in their children’s education. Many were afraid to teach their child, but quickly found that they understood their children’s learning style and, with the right tools, where better able to support them than anyone else. Furthermore, they found support from those with more teaching experience in their Modular Learning community. Some hire tutors, but they don’t have to as they find there are so many experts and mentors in the community who are happy to step in and teach their child.

What they share in common is that their children learn quickly at their own pace, grow their innate passion for learning, make friends with children’s of all different ages, feel accepted and loved for who they are and build incredible projects like writing their own book, making a film or building a boat. Families make lasting friendships too, based around a mutual excitement around education and genuine care and interest in each other’s children.

What do you think ? Are you interested in designing your child’s education, childcare and social life ? What, if anything is holding you back ? We’d love to start a discussion in the comments.

Note: Since writing this, several families have asked me how to get started with Modular Learning and make sure their child is on track socially, emotionally and academically. Here is a guide to get started. Please feel free to contact me if you have any questions or need support.