We set out to walk our talk --- aligning our query with the same WonderLab Venn diagram that we use to help guide our Learners:
So what did we learn?!
We learned that WonderLab is really good at engaging kids through deep listening fueled by genuine empathy. So many of the conversations that we had ended up with a refrain perhaps best captured in a conversation that I had with a WonderLab parent last fall:
“I didn’t quite understand what this was when we signed up. By my daughter’s storytelling of what she was doing at WonderLab, it became clearer. It was one-on-one. You were asking her questions like a grown-up. Her opinions were taken very seriously --- and she totally responds to that.”
The good news is that listening empathetically is something that we (the WonderLab Team) love. The challenge is that our current model is neither scalable (that which the world needs) nor sustainable (that which WonderLab can be paid for).
Why? Because this deeply human exercise of listening empathetically one-on-one is relatively difficult to scale and expensive. I love Princeton University President Chris Eisgruber’s explanation (see “The Changing Landscape of Higher Education: MOOCs, Money and the Future of Liberal Arts Education”):
“What Princeton offers… is intense and unrelenting engagement… and engagement is expensive. Engagement is essential to learning, and, in general, engagement is expensive. It is expensive because it turns on putting students in contact with faculty members in as close to a one-on-one relationship as you can get. So engagement drives labor costs, and labor costs are what make education expensive.”
I can honestly say that I knew this when starting WonderLab. In fact, I was actually in the audience when then President-elect Eisgruber spoke those words, nodding enthusiastically. That said, I thought our part-time Mentor Guides and modest physical Lab would provide the right mix of engagement, scalability and affordability --- and I now readily admit that I was wrong.
So what's next?!
Again, walking our talk, we’re pivoting. We are trying to find the right questions that might lead us to the best answers. And ultimately, we will find another way.
What is a scalable and sustainable delivery mechanism for WonderLab to motivate people to love learning? How can we build a model where caring individuals listen empathetically to engaged WonderLab Learners in a group setting? In schools? In existing after school programs? Outside schools? In homeschool settings? How we can use technology as a tool? How can we do so in a way that frees up the humans to be more human with one another?
Late last month we suspended our current Lab-centric, one-on-one model, and at a Templeton Learning Board meeting last week, we determined that WonderLab will discontinue this model to focus our energies on developing a new way to package the WonderLab curriculum and methodologies for like-minded schools and/or homeschooling families.
Luckily for us, Blyth-Templeton Academy’s upcoming launch in Washington D.C. this fall may provide an opportunity to pilot a school-based WonderLab offering, and some of the phenomenal homeschooling families that we’ve worked with in Austin to date have expressed interest in piloting a homeschooler-centric offering.
There is no shortage of work to be done in the next couple months, and though we’ll be busy learning by dreaming and doing --- walking our talk yet again --- we’ll keep sharing!
Thanks for reading, and thanks to all those who have provided the ideas and insights that have gotten us this far.