Christopher Pommerening of Learnlife tells us how COVID-19 served as a catalyst for learning innovation worldwide and the story of the organization pioneering the revolution.
First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Christopher Pommerening: We are doing well, thanks. Fortunately, all of us have remained healthy and safe throughout this pandemic. We have been enjoying more family time at home than otherwise would be possible, a nice silver lining.
Tell us about you, your career, how you founded Learnlife.
Christopher Pommerening: I am from Hamburg, Germany, although Barcelona, Spain, has been my adopted home for the last couple of decades. I am happily married and a father of three kids – two boys and one girl. I am also the Founder and Chief Empowerment Officer of Learnlife. Learnlife is transforming the world of learning through an open ecosystem for a new lifelong learning paradigm that focuses on purpose-inspired and personal learning. Our ambition is to empower 100,000,000 learners and 100,000 schools by 2030 by launching 5,000 physical Learnhubs in every country around the world.
The idea for Learnlife came from my wife and I simply being parents who were looking into educational options for our children. We saw a gap in “future-proof” options and the clear need for profound and sustained change in the space. I reached out to others from education and entrepreneurial backgrounds to initiate the project. In 2017, after two years of preparation and research, we started Learnlife with the aim to positively change the world’s learning landscape.
Prior to Learnlife, I was an internet entrepreneur and venture capitalist. Specifically, I began my professional career in 1998, when I co-founded AutoScout24 Spain. In 2002 I founded ACTIVE Venture Partners, an entrepreneurial-driven VC firm, and have since founded 10 companies and invested in over 30 startups.
How does Learnlife innovate?
Christopher Pommerening: There has been a huge amount of technological and societal change over the last century, but when you think about it, children globally remain in education systems that barely differ from those of their parents and even their grandparents. These systems are struggling to keep pace, and this stagnation means that students are being prepared for a world that doesn’t exist anymore.
It goes without saying that the COVID-19 pandemic only exacerbated this problem. Traditional schooling structures often lacked the innovation and resources to deliver a curriculum to keep up with fast-changing developments. Children and teachers were all of sudden learning and teaching from home, something that most had not been used to.
This whole experience has been a global eyeopener and has provided education communities a unique opportunity to overhaul the current education system and outdated practices. As millions of students return to classrooms, there is an immense focus on the importance of wellbeing, learning environments, and space design.
We at Learnlife believe that now is the time to embrace learning innovation and unleash a new lifelong learning paradigm that is learner-centered and focuses on a purpose-inspired and personal journey. A paradigm in which self-determined learning replaces standardized instructional education.
Our paradigm consists of 21 elements promoting sustained educational change. These have been developed based on research, best practice examples, and 27 of the most effective learning methodologies from over 100 hugely innovative schools around the globe. These elements have been built in collaboration with over 600 change leaders from the worlds of education, entrepreneurship, and innovation.
Learnlife is also providing an opportunity to innovate and revamp physical learning environments so that learning can truly flourish. Any school could, for example, use this unique moment in time to set up modular learning studios (called “hublings”) with us in their outdoor spaces to optimize class sizes and include creative and digitally empowered pop-up learning hubs to experience the future of learning.
How does the coronavirus pandemic affect your business, and how are you coping?
Christopher Pommerening: On a macro level and as described above, the COVID-19 pandemic has created the largest disruption of education systems in history. For us, however, the pandemic has accelerated the transformation process and has deeply supported in getting our message across that change needs to happen.
On a more micro level, up until the pandemic, Learnlife had offered full- and part-time programs only at physical Learn Hubs, such as our Barcelona Urban Hub or Nature Hub. Then on March 10th of 2020, Learnlife made an immediate decision to shift from face-to-face learning to online learning. The decision came 3 days before the government declared that all schools be closed. Learnlife was able to discuss, design, and execute this change in less than 24 hours, an incredible achievement and testament to our native agility and innovative capacity.
The new model proved to be a success, with many families and learners deciding to remain remote even after schools were able to open doors once more. And as new COVID-19 restrictions arose, so did a strong demand for learners to be able to access learning experiences online from any location around the globe. And so our Home Hub was born – Learnlife’s online learning program based on our paradigm, with a goal of connecting learners from around the world.
All this said, and not to undermine the pain and suffering many are going through as a result of the pandemic, COVID-19 has been a massive catalyst of our mission.
What specific tools, software, and management skills are you using to navigate this crisis?
Christopher Pommerening: Seeing that the world is now more digital than ever, it has been essential to leverage tools within and outside our organization. Amongst our team, tools such as Basecamp, Zoom, and Miro have been crucial for collaboration and communication. Between our learning guides (our term for ‘teachers’) and learners, Zoom and Monday have been key. We are also building out our own technology platforms to best suit the personal and self-determined learning approach we advocate, within the context of remote learning or otherwise.
However, even more important than technology has been an increased focus on connection, positive relationships, and wellbeing throughout our community. Though these have always been part of our values, we are making extra strides in these areas to ensure everyone feels supported by means of talks, yoga and meditation classes, dedicated wellness groups and forums, and more.
Who are your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the game?
Christopher Pommerening: A plethora of wonderful examples of innovative schools and learning centers already exist around the globe. In fact (and as touched on above), we researched, documented, and gained inspiration from ‘best practice’ examples of 100 of the most innovative schools and their learning methodologies in order to build out our own learning paradigm.
Instead of viewing the landscape as “competitive,” we prefer to view ourselves and other innovative learning initiatives as collaborative proponents who cross-pollinate ideas and best practices to continuously inspire, learn and grow together. At the end of the day, we prefer to unite and work with other schools to help them incorporate the paradigm into their existing learning contexts. That way, we can accelerate the pace of change and collectively provide our children and lifelong learners with more relevant, fun, and memorable learning experiences sooner.
Your final thoughts?
Christopher Pommerening: I’ll leave you with this: Lifelong learning is not just a right; It is a foundation for a better future. There are many competing priorities on this planet, from global warming to poverty, populism… but lifelong learning is undoubtedly the root of all the solutions to what our destinies will otherwise await. The current path of education is already obsolete, and any sensible person should recognize this as one of the biggest risks for mankind.
If you would like to get involved in any way, whether it’s enrolling your child, helping us develop our lifelong learning paradigm, or simply having a conversation with us, please get in touch! We hope to positively change education worldwide, together with you.