Meet Dinant Roode, a principal lecturer and learning space designer at Schools of Sports Studies at Hanze University of Applied Sciences

Over the years Kaospilot have met and collaborated with Dinant on EU project towards curriculum design, inspiring visits and knowledge sharing, and not the least with him as a participant on our Designing and Facilitating Learning Spaces program.

We had an interesting conversation about his work, learning, education, future and not the least, complexity theory. We naturally share the importance of what is going on in the world of education and learning.

Hi Dinant and welcome to this conversation. Could you please tell us about yourself, who you are and what you do?

I’m a surfer in mind. To me that means I take care of my family, my environment and love to play and learn on the water and in the woods. I use the metaphor: ‘you can’t change the wave, but you can learn to surf’ a lot in my personal life as well as in my professional life. I’m living in Groningen, a great student city in the North of The Netherlands.

Within my work I feel responsible for leading higher education towards the emerging future. A transition that needs a new approach to knowledge, facilitating and designing learning spaces towards complexity oriented and context enriched learning. The learning choreographer’s art is to see the invisible. Teaching becomes more and more a job of facilitating the learning space that is under-structured and over-prepared. In this kind of learning space you have unpredictable outcomes (open-ended education). These unpredicted outcomes carries risks and it is our challenge to see the beauty of it and facilitate the learning experiences in it.

As a professional rebel in learning and development at the Hanze UAS, School of Sports Studies,  I use different innovative methods to find awesome and significant ways of learning to empower students, professionals and the world around them. I’m a curious and slightly obsessed learning expert in:

  • designing and facilitating learning spaces to empower a world view of hope;
  • empowering and leading teams towards responsible and engaged professionalism;
  • driving change (transforming the system) by using futures literacy (UNESCO), theory U (Presencing Institute), vision backcasting and user-experience design (Kaospilot) as a strategy.

When someone tries to innovate within a traditional organization, few will understand what he is doing, but everybody will understand who is the trouble-maker. After the innovation has been embraced by the organization, few remember who started it, but everybody will remember who was the trouble-maker (David Nordfors, 2018). This is the dilemma encountered by many professional rebels – they risk punishment for success.

In your view, when we speak about designing and facilitating learning spaces, what is it that we are talking about?

To me, designing and facilitating learning spaces is an art to bring the student to the centre of the learning experience. For teachers and lecturers, it could be a relevant mindshift from only ‘shitting sheets’ and content delivery towards delivering deep learning. Deep learning, where heart, head and hands are involved, wisdom is appreciated more than knowledge, and attitudes, mindsets and action speaks louder than words, competences and predefined learning-outcomes.

Putting the emphasis on the learning space instead of competence-based learning-outcomes or content shifts your perspective as a teacher towards learning-psychology, pedagogy and didactical approaches. Putting the emphasis on design and facilitation it becomes an active process and a craft.

Learning has left the building into the real life world, a specific context, with wicked problems

I believe that teaching, within this timeframe of democratized knowledge in an interconnected world, needs to evolve towards a craft of designing and facilitating learning spaces that enables students to cooperate and to take ownership of their learning. Learning has left the building into the real life world, a specific context, with wicked problems.

To me, a relevant learning space is designed and facilitated in such a way that it:

  • enable students to cooperate, participate, take responsibility and learn in a self-directed way;
  • enable students to be reflective and critical thinkers – considering different perspectives to reach informed opinions and decisions;
  • allow students to take ownership of their learning and reflect on what and how they have learned;
  • empower students to be creative, flexible and able to take positive action to deal with change;
  • enable students to become conscious of interconnectedness – you, me and the world around.

You have an extensive background as an educator; from your view how has our thinking and practice in terms of education changed?

Since I started in higher education efficiency and outcome is a strong force. In The Netherlands higher education was in a sweet spot and society supported the idea of getting a degree without asking further questions. During that time, higher education as a business took flight and with that efficiency and outcome. I can see that this higher education as a business can be feared because it could be far away from the primary purpose and value of higher education. Although we graduate students into society, we educate them not to serve it but to shape it. Higher education serves humanity first and foremost. I’m concerned with preserving the centrality of accessible higher education in a changing and challenging world. The emphasis must be on the purpose and identity of the institute rather than promoting a transition to greater corporatization of higher education. I believe that strong, independent institutions create the conditions that make our value proposition possible.

Studying at a higher education institute leads in many cases to student debt and causing the public to question the value of a four-year degree. As the digital knowledge economy demands new forms of postsecondary education and new skills of graduates, less expensive—often online—alternatives are emerging. It is not entirely clear how traditional institutions should respond or how they might best contribute to an evolving ecosystem. Given the varied change pressures it is the right time to begin planning how to best leverage change in order to move higher education in new and promising directions. As we move forward, we should embrace healthy skepticism by making space for critical reflection.

Secondly, I see a growing gap between what is valued in higher education and what is valued in work, or society. Grades have become the end goal, in education. ‘Is this going to be on the test?’, is a typical question that becomes increasingly popular as a test date approaches. It seems like an innocent question, but if you unravel it, a worrying trend surface. Grades, ideally intended as an effective means to learn, have transformed into a goal in itself. Grades force students to memorize those details necessary to pass a test, often disregarding true comprehension of the subject matter. In this process, the student’s personal development is becoming a footnote, overshadowed by the imperative significance of grades. What are the implications for educational institutions? How effective are they in fulfilling their duty, which is to educate the next generation?

The demands of the future will ask from future job seekers to strengthen their skills and gain new ones to keep pace. The ability to create learning spaces that can support the development of those skills will rest upon the development of flexible systems that lay the groundwork for connected and collaborative learning. This learning is grounded in a set of design principles that combines best practices in learning science with cutting-edge technologies in a networked world. Data and the ability to transform the data into action will be the new lifeblood of higher education. Data allows faculties and learning space designers to evaluate and understand the success of a curriculum but also goes far beyond just evaluation. Data actually empower learning space designers to be learning scientists or learning engineers. The more we know about a user, the better we can start dynamically tailoring our learning spaces to individual learners.

…my design and facilitation changed from a more content entertainer, ego perspective and matching to outcomes kind approach towards a facilitator of the space, eco perspective, collective and personal learning that sticks because heart, head and hands are involved

I saw a post where you quoted Paulo Freire and views of function and practice of education; can you elaborate on that and your views towards empowerment and perhaps consequences of such a direction?

Paulo Freire stated: ‘there is no such thing as a neutral education process. Education either functions as an instrument which is used to facilitate the integration of generations into the logic of the present system and bring about conformity to it, or it becomes the ‘practice of freedom’, the means by which men and woman deal critically with reality and discover how to participate in the transformation of their world’. With reading to the work of Paulo Freire I became aware of my roots of learning based on ‘practice of freedom’ when I was growing up. Entering higher education and working as a lecturer I was ‘forced’ to facilitate integration into the present system. Eventually, my roots, students and inspiring people around me helped me to trust on the concept of learning as practice of freedom.

This means my design and facilitation changed from a more content entertainer, ego perspective and matching to outcomes kind approach towards a facilitator of the space, eco perspective, collective and personal learning that sticks because heart, head and hands are involved.

An empowering learning space is rich in a way that people can decide which challenge(s) they want to take collectively and personally in a safe space where all of them matters and take responsibility to appreciate others and contribute significantly. A true dive into complexity, learning to navigate chaos. The control people have over what they create makes the experience more memorable, more lasting and more valuable. Taking control, getting into ‘yes’ creates learning that sticks. When it comes to learning, we all know who should be in the driver’s seat: the learner. Of course we need, in most cases, to build the capacity of our students to take the steering wheel and drive. We should create a learning environment for students where only the ‘fail-safe’ is in the hands of the facilitator. With fail-safe I mean prevent situation where people get hurt. This means questioning rather than giving answers, stimulating interactions instead of listening and coach the follow up.

In terms of putting learning in the hands of students, it is much more powerful to know the questions, than to have answers. The best educators are the sharers of questions. They are happy to know less about information and more about inquiry. It’s about the importance of building a conversation around a series of questions to showcase that learning is about a process. Yes, it is a process of seeking answers, but also one of uncovering new questions to ask. By its nature a question is not an endpoint, educating through questioning puts the power in the hands of students who will be learning the new questions to ask. And that often allows the power to be shared by all. A challenge built on questions creates a great foundation for empowered learning. But we need to make sure that if we want students to do the learning (driving), we keep the learning about ‘doing/making’. After all, we can’t do all our driving from the passenger seat. We all need to feel engaged. To realize this we need to feel as if we are a part of the learning experience. In other words, it is doing ‘with us’, rather than ‘for us’. When students drive the learning, they are fully engaged in the thinking, doing and reflecting that occurs.

Even after students are doing the actual driving, they can still run into trouble. Support can be a necessity. Learner-driven learning can’t be just about the learner doing the driving 24/7. As skills build and problems develop, we need to provide follow-up to keep the learning — and the learner — headed in the right direction. The right direction for the learner, not for us. One of the best things we can do to keep learning in the hands of the learner is to make it clear that we’re invested in them charting their own course, and that we’re there to help them find their way.

Deeply interconnected systems are everywhere and at all levels of scale. One thing these very complex systems have in common is that they behave in ways that surprise

You are also a person drawn towards complexity theory and education, what would you say the world of education could learn from complexity theory?

The dominant stance of science in education is reductionist. Breaking things into their parts to make the ideas more accessible has been a major ingredient of effective learning strategies. In effect, without it ever being a learning goal, students have been taught reductionism as a core methodology for tackling problems.

The design of curricula has also been reductionist. Breaking knowledge up into subject silos that remain unconnected from each other. With the emergence of complexity science these familiar education practices are being re-evaluated. We emphasize that complexity science does not reject a reductionist approach. The aim is simply to acquire the skill to decide when a reductionist approach is fit for purpose. But when it is not what are the tools for those kinds of problems? What we know for sure is that some things are knowable, but others are irreducibly uncertain. Embracing uncertainty and dealing with ambiguity are becoming essential skills. Complexity science does not offer solutions to every difficult problem. But there is continuous progress and more importantly there is every indication that it will feature prominently during the adult lives of students who are in school today.

Our world is full of complex causalities. Understanding complex causal systems is fundamental to navigating the contemporary world. Awakening learners to these more complex patterns is half the battle. The other half concerns how easily we can overlook what’s going on. How might education help students grasp the complexity of the systems surrounding us? How can education better equip them to recognize and respond in appropriate ways to complexity? Deeply interconnected systems are everywhere and at all levels of scale. One thing these very complex systems have in common is that they behave in ways that surprise. Their interconnected nature leads to emergent behavior that is not obviously triggered by a single cause. This means that systems can trip into transitions and that they can react disproportionately to small triggers. If we want our students to understand how complex systems work and develop the habits of systems thinkers, we need to change some key ways in which we introduce them to new knowledge.

Most of our teaching approaches try to reduce complex systems into their parts so they are easier to understand. Then we tend to look for linear cause-and-effect relationships between these separate parts. Doing this is a problem because it ignores the essence of the dynamic whole that makes the system what it is. We need to find new ways to keep the wholeness, while still making the parts accessible. Traditionally we have also looked for students to demonstrate their understanding by giving us ‘right’ answers to every question. This is another practice we need to adapt as we help students build new habits of mind. They need lots of practice in the more contingent (‘it depends’) thinking that an understanding of complexity demands.
The field has developed a shared language for talking about complexity concepts and there is general agreement about the key characteristics of complex systems. Complexity science is increasingly developing tools relevant across disciplines that deal with complexity as it is. Our challenge is to find ways to equip our students with these tools, and this theory, so they can come to grips with complexity. Some teachers are already exploring these ideas with their students and some would like to start.

Implications of the growing importance of complexity approaches is that we need to add knowledge of complexity to the curriculum. There is new ‘content’ or understanding to address. Complexity takes a biological system view of the world. There is an emphasis on interconnections between the various system components. The following concepts are central to knowledge of the characteristics of complex systems and how they behave:

  • the whole is more than the sum of its parts;
  • the greater the diversity of the different parts in a system, the more resilient it is likely to be;
  • systems evolve dynamically over time, self-organize and their global properties are said to be emergent;
  • change is non-linear and properties are emergent, so small consequences can have large effects that might not have been anticipated or predicted;
  • there are constant interactions between any system and its surrounding environment, so the boundaries of a system are typically ‘fuzzy’ – it is said to be open.

Many people engaged in education and educational reform and transformation do experiences changes and rewards in this endeavour – from your view could you elaborate on your own learnings?

I once read a statement of David Nordfors that resonates with this question. He stated: ‘when someone tries to innovate within a traditional organization, few will understand what he is doing, but everybody will understand who the trouble-maker is. After the innovation has been embraced by the organization, few remember who started it, but everybody will remember who the trouble-maker was’. This is the dilemma encountered by many professional rebels – they risk punishment for success. But in my work, I’m willing to take that risk, feel supported to be a gentle disruptor and enjoy the complexity of change in people and systems.

I would say, the first lesson that I have learned, that I didn’t expect, is a lesson in gratitude. Working hard and struggling from time to time made me realize that I was given this change. So many times, I feel blessed to experience space to plan my work, generate ideas together, meeting inspiring people and be complimented for being a rebellious trusted advisor.

Change, especially forced change, is not about the quality of the plan or the direction we are going, it’s all about acceptance

What I also learned is that educational change is slow. Change, especially forced change, is not about the quality of the plan or the direction we are going, it’s all about acceptance. In the higher educational system, I’m working in, the management team traditionally appreciates inspiring and solid plans and teachers traditionally buy in when you tell their story or their wishes. I’m very blessed with a small management team that believes in short term experiments to learn from instead of the plan-and-control approach. This is an important step towards responsibility and empowerment to the teams of teachers.

Maybe the most important lesson I learned is that my work is my passion. I’m curious and slightly obsessed about learning. My drive is to design and facilitate awesome and significant learning spaces. This gives me so much energy and is exhausting from time to time. I’ve learned that I’m not working to be liked or produce the desired outcomes. I believe in adding meaningful work to the people and the organization. It’s more about believing in it and going for it. For me it’s not about instant happiness or joy at work. It is about the long-term fulfilment that gives energy and joy. Working for what matters, also leads to meeting other openhearted people. They follow their passion, dreams and do what matters to them. Their presence is a gift to be around. When you’re fully into something you’ll start to shine. I love to learn from people with shiny eyes, passion and dreams.

As a lifelong educator, I believe the problem of students today lies in us not in our youth. It is our job to reverse this ‘outcome oriented’ educational monster we have created. We need to design a ‘new education’ that encourages students to deal with complexity, being entrepreneurial and becoming change agents. Because the world needs them more than we think

Educations, as formal institutions, are not alone in providing opportunities for learning and the attainment of knowledge and skills; how do you envision educations will stay relevant as to the their future cut out for a new reality?

The first important point to make is that the education system, in most cases, is designed to resist change as much as possible. The system has for nearly a hundred years become very fixated on efficiency and the belief in a one best way to do something for all people. As curricula standardizes around high-stakes exams, teachers become, in essence, educational delivery systems rather than skilled professionals. I see it as a threat to stay relevant. Happily, this is slowly beginning to change.

Unlearning will be the new normal for a period of time. We have been conditioned with a way of thinking, an understanding of what is ‘right’. Unlearning is not about forgetting, it is about the ability to choose an alternative mental model or paradigm. Unlearning gives us the skills necessary to continuously adapt to changing circumstances, whether it be responding to uncertainty, to opportunity, or to unplanned situations. Being able to adapt during a crisis, such as covid-19, will create a divergence between professionals into two distinct categories: those who will thrive and those who will fail.

As human, now is the time to adapt your talent strategy (on-demand and freelance) and ways of working (remote) to meet needs and thrive. Humans will need to be able to loosen and rework their previous paradigms, now more than ever. Life as we knew it shifted overnight. From school, work, socialization and shopping — our ‘in-person reality’ changed to a ‘virtual reality’. Our economy has shifted, and business models have pivoted to survival mode. We are experiencing agility and adaptability in its truest and most beautiful form, much of which can be attributed to our ability to learn and relearn. Yet in order to successfully relearn, we must be willing to unlearn what is no longer relevant or existent.

Our students need to be content creators, not memorizers. You can diagnose students as ‘excellent sheep’ who are ‘spoon-fed’ by Google and parents that they can no longer cope with difficulty or perform complex mental operations. Millennials and their younger siblings know difficulty. No generation in recent times has faced greater global challenges and an educational system more in need of redesign. No generation since the second world war has had to face more real and present danger from fascism, the possibility of a nuclear holocaust, or environmental collapse, compounded by powerful leaders determined to deny these realities. Students are warned that the ‘robots are coming’ but offered an educational system that seems designed not to invite the robots.

We know how much time they spend online interacting and remixing content. These are useful skills in the world we live in. Please, deconstruct the passivity and mindlessness of traditional schooling and challenge our students to take responsibility for their learning by using active, engaged learning principles from Maria Montessori, John Dewey, Paulo Freire and Audre Lorde.

As a lifelong educator, I believe the problem of students today lies in us not in our youth. It is our job to reverse this ‘outcome oriented’ educational monster we have created. We need to design a ‘new education’ that encourages students to deal with complexity, being entrepreneurial and becoming change agents. Because the world needs them more than we think.

Educational initiatives that are excellent in designing and facilitating awesome and significant learning spaces will be valued and found by students. It’s the challenge for the higher educational system to unlearn and reinvent themselves if they want to stay relevant. At the same time this is an opportunity for start-ups online and offline. Learning becomes more and more a lifelong mission to stay relevant as a professional. Within the search for meaningful learning experiences people will search for inspiring spaces, state of the art experiences and great network opportunities.

If you want to learn the art & craft of experiential learning that fosters creativity, innovation and risk in education, join our courses here:

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