presented in the framework of the Stockholm Challenge 2006)
The Learning Development Institute (LDI) was
a participant in the 2006 Stockholm
Challenge in the category 'education.' This page was developed
to present LDI's case, i.e. the story of LDI, in that particular
context. We were told, though, that the story was also interesting
in its own right. We have therefore decided to retain it on the
learndev.org Web site.
The Stockholm Challenge searches for the
best initiatives that accelerate the use of information technology
for the social and economic benefit of citizens and communities
around the world. LDI has an interesting story to tell regarding
how to meet the challenge. That story is told on this page. Sharing
our experience, which may inspire others, is our aim in telling
CONSIDERATION: This story
parallels the description
of the Learning Development Institute (LDI) as presented in the
database of the Stockholm Challenge, which is naturally conditioned
by the parameters of that database. Considering the specific
nature of LDI, the information provided via the present description
expands beyond the elements specified in the above database,
correcting, where necessary, misconceptions that could possibly
arise as well as providing an overview that may benefit readers
outside the environment of the Stockholm Challenge. It should,
for instance, be noted that the Challenge's database situates
LDI in Eyragues, France. However, this is but one of multiple
addresses across the globe with which LDI can be associated.
At the heart of LDI's existence is the notion of networking.
As explained below, this means that LDI is not based, but distributed,
a characteristic it owes, in large part, to how it has taken
advantage of the Internet. It also seems appropriate to state
candidly that, while LDI engages in developing innovative uses
of technology, its goals are beyond the technology as such and
the area it covers is much broader than technology-based interventions.
In what follows, the focus is therefore on the purposes for which
LDI was created, rather than its significant role in developing
and promoting the pioneering human use of technology.
NOT YOUR USUAL INSTITUTE
Learning Development Institute (LDI) operates decidedly outside
the mainstream and it shows. It doesn't fit the regular criteria
used to describe projects, whether for the Stockholm Challenge
or otherwise. LDI's focus is on human learning, and human learning
interacts with all six areas according to which entries for the
Stockholm Challenge are classified, i.e. Public Administration;
Culture; Health; Education; Economic Development; and Environment.
We have chosen, however, to list LDI under the category Education.
Education comes closest to the conscious concern with learning,
even though in the practice of education that same concern often
remains limited to what happens in the school and little attention
is given to the myriad other ways and settings in which people
learn. LDI interprets learning in a much broader sense than what
is reflected in the usual concern with education. It looks at
the phenomenon of learning in the perspective of what human beings
do that dispositions them to interact constructively with change.
The adverb 'constructively' is important here. It gives a moral
dimension to learning. Many articles in the 'papers' section
on LDI's Web site elucidate the Institute's views on learning.
A definitional source is Jan Visser's (2001) chapter on Integrity, Completeness and Comprehensiveness
of the Learning Environment: Meeting the Basic Learning Needs
of All Throughout Life in the International Handbook
of Lifelong Learning. The link provided gives access to an unedited
version of that chapter.
LDI is clearly mission oriented. The mission that guides LDI's work is comprehensive.
Its 'target audience' is humanity at large and the geographical
area where it seeks to have an impact is as vast as the surface
of a small planet, called the earth. As a consequence, LDI could
never be effective if it defined itself in traditional institutional
terms. By necessity, its focus has to be on networking, symbiosis
and catalysis. It has existed now for more than five years and
has not only survived, but flourished. To do so, it has never
had to ask anyone to contribute financially to the sustainability
of the institution. How that was possible will be explained more
fully in one of the following sections. Here we merely want to
reiterate a point made in LDI's 2005
Annual Report, which asserts that "LDI has stayed keenly
attuned to emerging technological developments and has been an
early adopter [Rogers, 1995] of them, particularly as regards
the broad variety of IP-based technologies. It is no exaggeration
to state that it would have been impossible for LDI to become
what it presently is had it not been possible to take advantage
of these technological developments. Besides the opportunities
such technologies afforded for effective communication, it is
at least as important that they were available at an extremely
low cost" (10).
NOT A PROJECT EITHER
LDI is more than a project. Rather, it
is a challenge; one that requires long-term strategic thinking
beyond the timeframes of regular projects. LDI emerged from earlier
work undertaken in the context of UNESCO's Learning
Without Frontiers (LWF) initiative. LWF was initially started
as an effort to break down the traditional barriers to learning,
related to space, time, age, and circumstance. But it soon became
clear that in addition to those barriers, there are many other
- often more fundamental - barriers in the ways in which we perceive
of learning. Those perceptual barriers impact the kinds of learning
societies try to facilitate and the many other aspects of learning
that never get attention. LDI, which is the successor to LWF,
represents the challenge to tackle the latter kind of barriers,
or, as we once formulated it, to work towards Overcoming
the Underdevelopment of Learning. The link provided in the
previous sentence leads to the papers that emerged from holding
a symposium in 1999 in the context of the Annual Meeting of the
American Educational Research Association, held in April of that
year in Montreal, Canada. Organized collaboratively by LDI and
UNESCO, that symposium can be seen as a first instance of the
building of transdisciplinary networked learning communities
around issues of significance that has since become the mainstay
of LDI's work.
LOOK, NO WALLS!
focus on building of transdisciplinary networked learning communities
to address fundamental issues in the development (or lack thereof)
of human learning has been responsible for another unique characteristic
of LDI: the Institute has no walls. The question 'Where
are you based?' cannot be answered in the case of LDI. We
are not particularly proud of it. In fact, those who identified
with LDI in its early years rather experienced a kind of embarrassment
when they were not able to answer such a simple question. After
all, if you are not based, do you really exist? It is a feature
of having one's focus on networking that 'presence' becomes something
increasingly less defined. One becomes present through others,
rather than in one's own right, through a symbiotic relationship
with persons and organizations. Such presence is not automatic.
It is not a simple function of the number of links one establishes,
but rather of the quality of such links. And that quality, in
turn, is related to the work one does together with others. Thus,
virtual presence is a distributed 'being there' in the creative
collaboration with other people and institutions.
SYMBIOSIS AND CATALYSIS
Two ideas are central to how LDI exists:
symbiosis and catalysis. Symbiosis can be described as an
association between different organisms that leads to a reciprocal
enhancement of their ability to survive (e.g. Lee, Severin,
Yokobayashi, & Ghadiri, 1997). Catalysis is the process of
lowering the required activation energy for a (bio)chemical reaction,
leaving the catalyst itself unchanged. A catalyst can thus speed
up a specific process. Catalysis can bring about change in situations
that are otherwise entirely stable, leaving the catalyst intact
to continue to perform a similar role elsewhere (e.g. Watson,
Hopkins, Roberts, Steitz, & Weiner, 1987).
The idea of symbiosis at an organizational
level means that, as an institution, one does not exist merely
for oneself, but always together with and for others, whose existence
is being enhanced by one's own existence and vice versa. Similarly,
and as a consequence of being symbiotic, it is natural also to
care for one's environment without being or becoming part of
desired change processes oneself or having a direct interest
in them. In terms of networking this means that one cares for
network relationships even if one is not oneself in the center
of things, i.e. one behaves like a catalyst. LDI operates at
THE ROLE OF THE INTERNET AND
As mentioned, LDI would not have been what
it is without the Internet. The existence of the Internet has
been a necessary condition for the development of LDI. However,
it has not been, and will not be, a sufficient condition.
Dreyfus (2001) argues that living on the Web, leaving our bodies
behind, leads to eliminating risk, vulnerability and commitment.
Summing up a New York Times article by Guernsey (2000)
he asserts that "embodied people with their sense of relevance
cannot be dispensed with but need to form a symbiotic relation
with the disembodied machines" (96), lest meaning will disappear.
Meaning is at the heart of LDI's work. In fact, the very first
focus area of activity the Institute identified, and the one
that has seen the most far reaching development and that interacts
most universally with all subsequently defined focus areas is
called the Meaning of Learning (MOL).
While LDI could never have become in a mere five-year time span
what it currently is without the Internet and other ICTs, it
would also never have become what it is if it had not at the
same time cared for the embodiment of thought in real-life experience,
creating opportunities for bodily togetherness and emotional
involvement among thinkers, researchers, practitioners, activists
and decision makers, asking participants in LDI's spaces of dialogue
to bring their bodies as much as committing their minds and souls.
Thus, physical systems of transportation of human bodies are
seen as inseparable from electronic links in LDI's work to network
the best and most committed minds of the planet.
Not the technology, but commitment to a
valid cause is the key driver of LDI's success. Technology, and
particularly the Internet, has been the prime facilitating factor
to serve the cause. Or, as Dreyfus (2001) asserts: "If...one
is already committed to a cause, the World Wide Web can increase
one's power to act, both by providing relevant information, and
by putting committed people in touch with each other who share
their cause and who are ready to risk their time and money, and
perhaps even their lives, in pursuing their shared end"
Thus, the key innovative aspect of the
use of ICT to implement LDI's mission is that it is not taken
for granted that the technology will do the trick. Every application
is carefully thought through in terms of the interaction between
the human beings involved while using the technology. Careful
attention is given to what needs to supplement ICT-enabled processes
or how ICTs might enhance courses of action that are not in the
first place technology-enabled. This applies both to how scholarly
networks are being facilitated (often with the inclusion of relevant
opportunities for face-to-face contact among participants) and
to how LDI promotes the integration of technology at the field
level of application. For instance, thanks to LDI's intervention,
major recommendations were made to reorient a development
project in the Democratic Republic of Congo away from a too
strong emphasis on technology via community telecenters to giving
primary attention to learning and teaching, integrating the use
of ICT from the perspective of how it would best serve specific
pedagogical purposes. The use of technology by LDI is always
explored from the perspective that it should enable users to
be optimally creative in solving problems autonomously and collaboratively.
Learning has no end. It affects everyone,
independently of age, gender, or whatever other distinctions
can be made to separate people in specific groups. However people
are divided up, LDI's work is relevant for all of them. There
are no specific target groups. Thus, those who become involved
in and who are affected by LDI's work range from the newly born
to the dying; from poor to rich; they include the sick and healthy;
and they may equally well live in the most remote rural areas
as well as in sophisticated urban environments. They may or may
not have access to information and communication technologies.
In practice, the above has meant that LDI
has worked extensively at the frontier of the development of
knowledge and insight into how humans learn through interaction
with the most advanced intellectual communities as well as helped
improve the conditions of learning for children and adults in
remote disease infected impoverished rural areas in Central Africa
where schools - if they exist - are far in between, where there
is no electricity, telephone or Internet, and where radio signals
may not penetrate with sufficient clarity and loudness to serve
a useful purpose.
Changing mindsets, which is what LDI is
in the first place about, may take more than one generation.
It cannot be measured in terms of a headcount of converted individuals.
Rather, the success can be gleaned from indicators that show
that serious and profound thinking is going on. Below is a list
of select indicators that, in our view, reflect LDI's impact.
Success in inviting the best minds on
the planet to contribute to LDI's intellectual effort. Level
of accomplishment and recognized stature of the individuals who
contributed to the work of the variety of communities generated
by LDI is testimony to the impact represented by this indicator.
Exemples are the Building
the Scientific Mind Community, the Book
of Problems community and the 9/11
importance attributed to LDI's Web site as measured by the Google
page rank, which has for several years remained 6/10. This is
comparatively impressive as argued in the 2005
Annual Report of the President of LDI. It is particularly
impressive considering that LDI has 0 (zero) staff on its payroll.
Acceptance of submitted papers and proposals
for conference sessions in peer reviewed environments. We have
had not a single reject over the entire five year period.
implementation of projects. Through the provision of needs assessment
and advisory services, LDI played for instance a major role in
shaping the earlier mentioned development
project in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Thanks to its
part in the success of this project, LDI is now being asked by
two competing consortia to join them for a follow-on project.
120 primary schools in rural areas benefited from the project
in terms of improved access (including via Internet); improved
pedagogy; improved gender ratio (more girls); improved capacity
to use local resources to support the pedagogy; and improved
relevance of what is being learned.
Success in generating freely available
resources for autonomous learning. A shining example of this
is the collaborative project For
the Love of Science, executed in collaboration with renowned
scientists (Roy McWeeny being editor in chief) and the Pari Center
for New Learning. Academics at the University of the Western
Cape (UWC) in South Africa have recently joined the partnership.
Collaboration with the UWC will focus on improving and validating
the materials. Readers will appreciate the exceptional nature
of this project by exploring the materials currently available.
Other indicators of impact are the spontaneous
positive feedback received from users of the ww.learndev.org
Web site; reported use of material available on the Web site
at universities and research institutions; and spontaneously
received requests from relevant scholars to join specific efforts.
ECONOMIC MODEL, SUSTAINABILITY
The economic model according to which LDI
is organized and was allowed to develop is believed to be unique.
Unlike non-governmental organizations in general, LDI has never
sought or received funding to sustain its own existence. It generates
income annually some $ 15,000 on an average by
providing services. It has been able to do everything it does
at an average yearly budget of less than $ 10,000. In other words,
LDI operates at virtually no cost (no pun intended) to the outside
world. Its cost effectiveness is thus extremely favorable. The
fact that no ones living depends on LDI allows the organization
to pursue sustaining itself in an entirely non-competitive manner,
focusing on the declared purposes for which it was created. The
model has been in place for five years. It is perfectly sustainable
and believed to be replicable by others, provided a number of
conditions are satisfied. LDI's
2005 Annual Report analyzes those conditions as follows:
A prime condition of sustainability for
the model of functioning chosen by LDI is the intrinsic motivation
and dedication to a cause by those who drive the organization
in addition to the availability to such individuals of sufficient
alternative means to sustain themselves. Such alternative means
can for instance be derived from a regular job in a different
context with time left to dedicate oneself to other important
issues; independent retirement benefits or other forms of independent
wealth; or an already financially assured setting in which someone
undertakes a study and, as part of that effort, seeks an opportunity
to enhance the study environment by linking it to a relevant
sphere of intellectual pursuit in line with the objectives of
the study. LDI has benefited from all such opportunities. Typically,
those who contribute to its work voluntarily range from students
to highly accomplished retired professionals. The question is
not if such potentially available work input exists. It is there,
and in some cases abundantly so. The more important question
relates to how it can be mobilized for a desired purpose. People
who are free to choose will dedicate their voluntary effort to
options of their choice, selecting one opportunity over the other.
Several factors are believed to have worked
in favor of LDI's model of sustainable mobilization of voluntary
LDI has actively positioned itself in
relevant professional circles, providing it with visibility and
LDI has actively published its results
and publicized its efforts via alternative media, such as books,
journals, the printed press in general, radio, TV, and multiple
Internet-based fora, including its own Web site. While doing
so, it has selectively chosen the channels through which it communicated,
keeping in mind the size of the audience reached and the perceived
relevance and reliability of a particular channel.
LDI has actively responded to requests
for keynotes, invited papers, workshops and the like in contexts
that could be expected to enhance its visibility and to contribute
to its perceived relevance by association with others, perceived
to be relevant by LDI.
LDI has created a small network of select
Fellows and other associates of outstanding achievement in fields
relevant to LDI's work among individuals whose ages and levels
of accomplishment vary widely. Their presence often serves as
an attractor to others who seek to join.
LDI has stayed keenly attuned to emerging
technological developments and has been an early adopter of them,
particularly as regards the broad variety of IP-based technologies.
It is no exaggeration to state that it would have been impossible
for LDI to become what it presently is had it not been possible
to take advantage of these technological developments. Besides
the opportunities such technologies afforded for effective communication,
it is at least as important that they were available at an extremely
Symbiosis and catalysis have been the mainstay of LDIs
work since the organization started its activities. It sets LDI
and a small number of like-minded organizations
apart from the large majority of organizational entities (whether
for profit or not for profit), who, independently of what their
mission statement may specify, also represent the understandable
interest of those who work in and for them to have a stable job.
No ones livelihood depends in an immediate sense on LDIs
continued existence. The organization can thus be genuine in
its declaration that it exists for a purpose and has no intention
to survive that purpose. However, all indications are that LDI's
objectives are still far from being fulfilled. Thus, the Institute
must continue to pursue its aims.
Technology will continue to play the crucial
role it has played so far. No salary costs being involved, the
benefits from even small investments in technology will be relatively
high. However, we trust our experience that technology, even
when crucial, should not be the key focus of attention in addressing
the need to develop human learning. Learning is a social and
dialogic process. It takes place between people. However powerful
the technological means, they can only be effective if their
use is appropriately designed to facilitate in an optimal fashion
embodied human-human interaction.
LDI is determined to retain and consolidate
its current position as a symbiotic and catalytic entity. Preserving
those key elements of LDIs existence is essential to its
mission. It is also essential to retaining the level of autonomy
that has allowed LDI to address the non-mainstream issues to
which it dedicates itself. It is what has allowed LDI to retain
its excellence in the sense of going beyond where others are.
The financial implications of this position are obvious. It would
be counter to LDIs mission if the organization were forced
to attribute priority to issues of its own institutional survival
in terms of fulfilling financial needs. The five-year history
of LDI provides sufficient evidence to support the conclusion
that it can sustain its growth at the pace at which it has so
far developed. This provides LDI with a convenient level of comfort
to experiment with supplementary modes of functioning while maintaining
its current level of autonomy.
This opportunity comes at a good time The
thematic focus areas have developed thanks also to the
ongoing dialogue that LDI has stimulated and facilitated over
the years to the extent that research questions and development
options start emerging that call to be addressed. Considering
the transdisciplinary nature of most of these research questions
and development options it is unlikely that more traditional
organizations will take them on. Thus, LDI starts finding itself
in a position that it is morally obliged to follow through on
the results of its work and, in addition to being catalytic,
also take on well-proportioned active leadership positions in
carefully selected areas. Over the next five years the Institute
intends to develop its capacity to play such an enhanced leadership
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