This is the second article in a two-part series in which Ross Hall explores how transforming traditional educational systems can improve wellbeing. Read part one: Transforming education to help children thrive together.

In order to thrive, both with one another and with the planet, people need to benefit from a wide variety of learning environments and experiences throughout their lives. This can include learning in nature; learning in the community; playful learning; intergenerational learning; learning through the arts; learning through making, moving, and meditating; exploring, experimenting, and failing. It is important to recognise that young people are contributors today, trusting them to take the lead and supporting them in directing their own learning.

Hear Ross Hall on our podcast Teachers’ Voices
How learning communities can help children thrive

Different kinds of experiences may be more or less effective for different people and at different times in their lives. Whether someone is able to thrive is influenced by a complex interaction of genes, people, and contexts, and by the person’s own responses and ability to adapt. In order to thrive, children need learning experiences that are constantly adapting to their unique needs.

“In order to thrive, children need learning experiences that are constantly adapting to their unique needs.”

However, most young people around the world are not yet benefitting from these kinds of learning experiences. Far too often, schools are designed to encourage compliance rather than to create positive change in the world. The conventional school experience focuses narrowly on literacy and numeracy, which are necessary but not sufficient; on knowledge transfer and academic attainment, not on the development ofthe whole person; on educating young people for jobs, not for life; on personal economic success, not on universal wellbeing. And despite their best intentions, parents often lack the information and resources they need to offer their children informal learning opportunities outside of school.

Thriving learning ecosystems

Many individuals – including teachers, non-formal educators, parents, health and social workers, faith leaders, community leaders, and culture-makers – have a direct and profound impact on the learning environments and experiences of young people. These individuals need to work together to provide children with the learning experiences that are necessary to thrive. While schools can’t do everything alone, they can play an essential role in coordinating and supporting learning for the whole community.

Similarly, those who have an indirect influence on young people’s experiences – policymakers, researchers, employers, administrators, funders, media actors, and others – need to work together to promote and support beneficial learning experiences.

“We need to fundamentally transform the purpose and practice of education systems.”

By joining forces, all of these individuals can ensure that everyone, in every community, is equipped and inclined to thrive as a whole human being, living for the whole world. Through their collaboration, the conventional education system could be transformed into a thriving learning ecosystem, which I define as:

“A diverse and trustful community – using evidence to provide a diverse range of learning environments and experiences that meet the unique needs of each person – with the shared purpose of learning to thrive together.”

If we want to address the tangle of crises we are now facing and move towards a thriving future, we must create thriving learning ecosystems. This requires much more than incremental change. We need to fundamentally transform the purpose and practice of education systems. We need to change mechanisms and mindsets – and we need to do this together. By exploring the concepts of learning to thrive, thriving learning experiences, and thriving learning ecosystems, we can shift our attention, ourselves, our organisations, and our systems. And ultimately help children to thrive together – with the planet – in an increasingly challenging world.


The concept of the learning ecosystem is relatively new but is gaining traction rapidly and providing people with a new lens through which to see themselves, their projects, organisations, and systems. See:

The concept has its roots in various bodies of evidence that point to the positive results of fostering trust, community, collaboration, and collective action. See, for example:

  • Israel, Glenn, Lionel Beaulieu, and Glen Hartless. (2001). ‘The influence of family and community social capital on educational achievement.” Rural Sociology66: 43-68.
  • Hargreaves, A. and O’Connor, M.T. (2018). Leading collaborative professionalism. Centre for Strategic Education Seminar Series Paper #274 April 2018.
  • Angrist, N., Evans, D.K., Filmer, D., Glennerster, R., Halsey Rogers, F., and Sabarwal. S. (2020). How to Improve Education Outcomes Most Efficiently? A Comparison of 150 Interventions Using the New Learning-Adjusted Years of Schooling Metric. World Bank. Policy Research Working Paper #9450.
  • Cerna, L. (2014). Trust: What it is and Why it Matters for Governance and Education OECD Education Working Paper No. 108.
  • Kania, J. and Kramer, M. (2011). Collective Impact. Stanford Social Innovation Review;
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