How Might We Make School the Best Place to Learn? (Google Innovation Academy – Part 1)

IMG_2163I recently returned from Mountain View, California, where I was blessed to spend three mind-blowing days at Google’s headquarters participating in the Google for Education Innovation Academy.

These days were jam-packed with so many takeaways that I’ve struggled to put it all into words. There will be more blogging to come on various lessons learned but for today, I wanted to share a reflection on what impacted me the most.

Google has a focus on being the best place to learn. 

The skills and knowledge a Google employee needs today may not be the same skills and knowledge they need tomorrow. So? They don’t even try to keep up with the job-specific skills – they can’t. Instead? They focus on fostering a culture of learning and making people the best learners they can be.

How? Google has four core beliefs about learning that help guide them:

  1. Learning is a process. It’s not an event. It happens over time, with motivation, practice, feedback and reflection.
  2. Learning happens in real life. In everyday challenges, in context, in real time. Googlers can teach each other, not just about workplace related topics, but also about anything at all: dancing, how to host a great baby shower, how to cook, anything.
  3. Learning is personal. Everyone has their own motivations. It’s about finding the learning you need at the time you need it most. Google has an internal platform it calls grow that employees can use to find personalized learning recommendations based on growth goals.
  4. Learning is social. People will turn to each other for advice, support and learning. The Googler to Googler teaching and learning I mentioned earlier is an example of this. Google also uses learning cohorts – of which our educator learning group (#MTV16) is one example.

In my opinion, not only are these core values about learning so important, but so is the environment in which Googlers spend their time. I only had but a small taste of life as a Googler, but I was blown away at the lengths Google goes to in order to ensure employee happiness, ensure their needs are met, and even to delight and inspire.

First of all, there is plenty of free food: three meals a day available in a wide variety of cafes, stocked micro-kitchens for snacks, down to the drawers of treats and fridges in meeting rooms. I never had to think ahead or plan about food. I brought snacks with me from Canada and lugged them all back home again. We never had to schedule a coffee break – anytime we got the munchies, we just helped ourselves. Not only will a hungry employee not be able to work at their peak, Google also sees eating as a social activity where Googlers can connect with one another. I’d bet that some of the best ideas were born over a meal!

But that’s not all. Google takes care of their employees’ transportation. The bright Google bikes are everywhere, allowing folks to travel the massive campus with ease (and exercise!). They also run a massive transportation system with coach busses transporting approximately 10000 employees a day to their neighbourhoods. Some of these commutes can be quite long in pretty bad traffic, so I’d bet it’s really nice to take a nap or catch up on emails rather than having to drive. For those that do drive to campus, I even saw a sign for on-site oil changes.

But these last two examples are my favourites: the control panel for the high-tech heated toilet seats (/bidets) and the RV for haircuts! And I haven’t even mentioned so many other things (and probably more that I didn’t get to see!), like massages. They’re not all free perks (e.g., employees pay for their own haircuts and oil changes), but it sure is convenient to have these services so close by.

What do all these perks have to do with learning? I’m sure the novelty of some of these things would wear off over time but it was incredibly delighting and relaxing to have these details taken care of for you. Sure, I could have packed a lunch and rented a car – I’m fully capable of handling these details of my life. But because they don’t have to do these things for you yet they do it anyways, It makes you feel happy, important and like you belong. It’s Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs on steroids. It then leaves you free to worry about learning and innovating.

Application for Education

Should schools not be the best places in the world to learn? Shouldn’t we have that market cornered? Is that not our core mission?!

How might we focus on creating the very best environment we can? How might we take care of our students everyday needs so they are able to focus on learning? How might we delight, surprise and inspire them? How might the physical structures, furniture and tools in a space facilitate learning effectively?

How might we shift the focus away from specific content and skills and shift towards making people the best learners they can be? When skills or content need to be addressed, how might we ensure that learning is personalized and just-in-time?

How might we foster a culture of peer-to-peer learning? How might we best incorporate students’ motivations, interests and passions?

Currently, students learn a lot in school but schools aren’t about learning. How much more effectively might we learn if we actually focused on creating the conditions for learning? Will Richardson’s recent TEDx Talk comes to mind as one way to elaborate on this concept:

We need schools to be about learning! 

 

 

 

(And do you notice I’ve said nothing about technology?)

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3 thoughts on “How Might We Make School the Best Place to Learn? (Google Innovation Academy – Part 1)

  1. Mme Randall says:

    Wow! What an experience this must have been!

    I could see the snacks and lunch program being a fabulous idea for schools but the obvious issue upfront being cost and delivery of such a program. However, fed and well-fed students would be such a blessing.

    Can’t wait to hear more all of this. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Ms. Armstrong says:

    I think there’s lots we could do that would cost relatively little but would have a huge impact. Clearly I’m a little obsessed with the food element, since that was so cool to me, but I don’t even think that’s the heart of it. That said, with that as the running example, what if it was as simple as allowing students to eat whenever they wanted, not just at designated times? That wouldn’t cost anything but would be a shift in mindset. Our kindergarten classrooms do it already.

    For something that does cost money to implement, there may be simple ways to fund it. We have a breakfast club that provides snacks, funded by our milk/pizza/other special food sales – simple grab and go, nutritious items (apples, muffins, etc.)… it might not be that much more costly to expand this program and simply have a basket out full-time in every class with some non-perishables.

    There are certainly more limitations on us than there are in a for-profit corporation, but I think a lot of it can be solved with some outside-the-box thinking or shifting of priorities.

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