BONUS: Learning ecologies

Ecologies for Learning, Development, Achievement & Creativity

Norman Jackson, Founder Lifewide Education @lifewider1 @lifewider @academiccreator

Why are learning ecologies relevant to creativity?

Creativity is about bringing entirely new ideas and/or things into existence. We often forget that in the world outside formal education, the most important thing we do to learn and achieve something new is to create the process through which we learn, develop and achieve. For anything that is significant or complicated this can be a messy and protracted business. I am calling this process of invention and adaptation a learning ecology to capture the organic nature of the way our process grows and interacts with the world we inhabit. For higher education, the most important and useful form of creativity and capability we need to help students' develop, is their ability to create their own processes to learn and achieve.

What is a learning ecology?

An individual's learning ecology (Figure 1) comprises their processes and contexts, relationships, networks, interactions, tools, technologies, activities and experiences that provides them with opportunities and resources for learning, development and achievement. Embedded within the ecology are the opportunities to be creative in the situated contexts of whatever enterprise is being undertaken.

Figure 1 Representation of a Learning Ecology

Organised educational settings provide ecologies for learning into which learners fit themselves but outside these settings self-created learning ecologies are essential to the way we learn and develop in work, family and other social settings. The ability to create our own processes for learning and development (knowing how to learn and being able to construct a process to achieve that goal) is perhaps the most important capability we need for sustaining ourselves in a complex, ever changing and often disruptive world and for maintaining our sense of wellbeing. Note that by bringing the process into existence the learner is creating something that did not exist before. This notion of 'creativity' and 'creation' connects well to a concept of creativity that is particularly relevant to learning and education namely, 'the emergence in action of a novel relational product growing out of the uniqueness of the individual on the one hand, and the materials, events, people, or circumstances of his life' (Rogers 1961). I interpret product to not just mean a material object but process, ideas and learning.

The illustration of a learning ecology shown in Figure 1 is heuristic rather than hierarchic. It represents the integration and interdependence of context, relationships, resources, (the most important being knowledge and tools to aid thinking and action), and an individuals will, knowledge and capability to create a learning process or learning ecology for a particular purpose. Such actions may be directed explicitly to learning or mastering something but more likely they will be primarily concerned with performing a task, solving a problem, or making the most of a new opportunity. The ecology we create to develop something like a new educational course is the living vehicle for our creativity. It is our self-determined and self-expressed process for achieving tangible proximal goals, within which we create our novel relational products [including our own development] grown out of our individual uniqueness which has been shaped by our past histories and imaginings of a different and better future, and the materials, events, people and circumstances of our life. We can give meaning and substance to this abstract idea and representation by creating a narrative of a developmental process (what we did and why we did it, when and where and how we did it and who we did it with and what emerged both planned and unplanned).

Our learning ecologies are the means by which we connect and integrate our past and current experiences and learning. They embrace all the physical and virtual places and spaces we inhabit and the learning and the meaning we gain from the contexts and situations that constitute our lives. Our learning ecologies are the product of both imagination and reason and they are the vehicle for our creative thoughts and actions. They are one of our most important sites for creativity and they enable us to develop ourselves personally and professionally in all aspects of our lives. Our learning ecologies enable us to involve people in our enterprises for learning, development and achievement: people who share their knowledge and experience, people who provide encouragement and emotional support, people who are able to offer criticism and challenge our beliefs and assumptions, people who can provide us with material resources, people who can connect us to other people who can help us. In this way we turn an ecology for our own purposes into something that is more social, collaborative and cooperative. And where we actively seek partners in the learning process and work together in a planned, co-ordinated and productive way, we move from an ecology for ourselves to an ecology whose purposes and actions are co-created and co-ordinated, combining the imaginations, agencies and resources of more than one individual.

It is one of the great mysteries to me that higher education has not yet recognised the significance of the idea of learning ecologies and use such thinking in curricular designs (Jackson 2014). Here is an opportunity for you to apply, evaluate and develop the idea!

Intended Learning Outcomes (ILO)

By the end of this process, you will have had the opportunity to:

  1. Learn about and critically evaluate the concept of learning ecologies
  2. Apply the idea to your own development process recording your thinking and actions as they unfold and self-observing how and when you use your creativity
  3. Create your own narrative of a learning ecology and critically evaluate value of the concept to understanding complex learning and achievements


To earn a badge, engage with at least one of the following activities and capture the evidence in your portfolio:

  1. Over a period of time (e.g. 4 to 8 weeks) keep a diary/blog of a development process you are involved in to develop or achieve something in your professional life. Identify the points at which you used your creativity and explain what creativity meant in these contexts and situations.

  2. Using the components of a learning ecology 'tool' to guide you, create an annotated diagram to represent your learning ecology and a short narrative of the experience drawing out the ecological features you consider to be important (example)

  3. Provide a short commentary on the value and relevance of the concept to understanding how we learn, develop and achieve new things.


Jackson N J (in draft) Exploring Learning Ecologies Available at:

I am currently exploring the idea of learning ecologies in a book. I have published 8 of the 9 chapters in draft and I welcome your involvement in critically reviewing the manuscripts and offering suggestions for how the content might be improved. I also welcome further narratives to help explain the concept and examples of teaching/learning strategies that encourage learners to create their own ecologies for learning.

I am intending to complete the first draft of the book manuscript by November 1st 2015 so feedback before this date would be particularly helpful.

Please send your comments/suggestions to me at

  1. Rogers, C. (1961) On becoming a person. Boston: Houghton Mifflin

Links to further sources of information about learning ecologies




  4. Twitter - @lifewider

If you have any questions, thoughts or observations regarding learning ecologies and the role they play for creativity, please add them below.


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