The Circular (Learning) Economy

I recently attended an event, as part of the team filming it for colleagues, surrounding supply chains (how stuff gets to us). The speakers, Miriam Gilbert and Keith Freegard, spoke wonderfully about the need to do more to include a more circular (recycling) methodology to our manufacturing and processing industries.

And this got me thinking. What are we doing, if anything, about this with our learning? Can we show a similar approach, good or bad, in how we generate, connect, create, collaborate, communicate, curate? (sound familiar?)

But first … what is a circular economy? The Ellen MacArthur Foundation describes it as “a global economic model that decouples economic growth and development from the consumption of finite resources” and that it “provides new opportunities for innovation across fields such as product design, service and business models, food, farming, biological feedstocks and products.” In essence it’s the ability to re-use materials in the manufacturing of new ones. Nothing new, but the processes involved are often ground-breaking and at the forefront of cutting-edge technology. 

Cars, for instances, use a blend and mixture of metals, plastics, and polymers in the creation and manufacture of individual parts. It is often costly and time consuming to try and separate these back out again into their component elements when it comes to recycling, which is why it is sometimes never done. But, for the circular economy to work, this does need to be done.

“As a result, the circular economy draws a sharp distinction between the consumption and use of materials: circular economy advocates the need for a ‘functional service’ model in which manufacturers or retailers increasingly retain the ownership of their products and, where possible, act as service providers—selling the use of products, not their one-way consumption.”
Ellen MacArthur Foundation

Yes, I can see that with the growth of personal and social learning, OERs and similar approaches we are doing more to include the students and staff in not only the co-creation of materials, but the lifecycle of learning. But where is the circular element in this? Is it still a linear model of creation and use, is there recycling element we can incorporate (beyond the sharing and reuse by others) that the circular economy encourages? Are the investors (academics, teachers, students, parents, etc.) also taking responsibility for their contribution and ensuring they are acting as service providers and continuing their involvement?

Or, should I be asking, do we need a circular economy of/for learning? For me it sounds sensible, inclusive, engaging, and sustainable, but I am still searching for the right analogy or example to fully appreciate whether it’s feasible or worth it.

If you know better then please do the usual thing and leave a comment below and engage with others who do too. If you’d rather write your own blog post, then do it, please, but also leave the URL of it below too so we can share and collaborate on it.

image source: Jeremy Levine (CC BY 2.0)

This has also reminded me of Ellen MacArthur’s talk at the 2012 Learning Without Frontiers conference. Here’s a section for you: