The Academy is taking the lid off learning, working outside the four walls of our schools to reconnect people, young and old, with their innate wonder and enthusiasm for discovering who we are in the deepest sense, who we are when we come together in relationship, and the impact of the structures and systems we live within.

One of our primary tools is our Learning Model, which integrates the insights of Academy Founder Aaron Stern with the work of John Dewey, David Kolb, Chris Argyris, and Jack Mezirow, all educational giants who advanced experiential and transformative learning.

Stern’s explorations into learning and teaching, while Dean of the American Conservatory of Music in the late 1970s through the early 1980s, yielded a synthesis between two approaches to learning and teaching.

The word “education” has two root meanings. One is educere, which means “to lead or guide out;” the other is educare: “to mold and shape.” The Academy Learning Model brings these two streams together with a slight emphasis toward educere.

“It’s within the experience of the ongoing balancing of these two approaches in the way that we both teach and learn that we come alive as teachers and learners.” — Aaron Stern on the learning model

Conventional educational models jump from theory to application, creating a closed loop in which we never truly learn or change. Our learning model disrupts the closed loop of the behavioral cycle and sets a spiral course where we are increasingly empowered to take responsibility for our own learning and transformation and to discover our inner authority.

Our model is deceptively simple, yet radical in its implications. It holds learning as a sacred practice and positions the individual at the center of their own learning and experience rather than outside systems and authorities, experts, teachers, books, facts, etc. Each person’s experience with the model is different, but is as valuable as any theory or expert.

Steps of the Learning Model

The Learning Model is like a spiral, allowing people to engage ever more deeply as they move through the steps of experience, reflection, critical inquiry, and application.

  1. Experience: The Academy’s Learning Model begins with experience and discovery, contrary to the conventional educational model, which usually begins with an existing theory. Experience can take many forms, from making art, storytelling, and movement to a group activity or nature outing. It’s anything you give your full attention to.
  2. Reflection and Meaning-Making: After participants go through an experience, the Learning Model asks them to reflect on that experience. The practice of reflection and its subsequent step, meaning-making, are undertaken through both individual and group exercises and explorations.
  3. Critical Inquiry: After reflecting and making meaning of our experience, we turn outside for support or to existing theory to understand how others might have made meaning from a similar experience.
  4. Application: For knowledge and learning to hold meaning in our lives, we must apply what we have discovered. This application naturally triggers new experiences, activating the cycle once again.