Micro-Schools: The Future of Learning

Special Focus : Roads Less Traveled: Alternative Approaches to Education
Higher Education July 26, 2018

The past decade has witnessed teachers, parents and learners rethinking educational choices and exploring alternatives outside of the system because freedom, agility and individualization — which are largely missing from traditional schools, are essential qualities for effective and joyful learning.

I’ve watched — and even ridden and participated in — the waves of change in education for the past decade from my front row seat to innovation in Silicon Valley. As the curator and host of the San Francisco Bay area Innovation Ed Conference, which brought together parents, educators, entrepreneurs and investors to explore the future of learning, and as the co-founder of a group of more than 350 local families who are educating their kids outside of school, it is clear to me that independent learning models work, and work well. The examples set by Bay Areas individuals and families in the homeschooling, unschooling[1] and independent learning communities illustrate that when learners are free to customize their paths, supported by caring parents, tutors and other learning facilitators, personal agency and a lifelong love of learning is the result.

And yet, as we rethink the past and build new models, we must come to terms with that great human challenge of integrating freedom and choice with structure. And in the case of learning environments, there are benefits from the traditional structures that would best be retained: a consistent community of peers and facilitators, co-located physical space, and a shared learning culture including consistent pedagogy and values.

The Rise of Micro-schools in the Future of Education

One of the most important new models for education is the growing trend towards, and availability of, micro-schools and independent learning centers. A micro-school as I’m using the term is any place where a small group of people gather to learn and create in highly customizable ways adapted specifically to meet the needs of the community.

Consider recent related entrepreneurial trends in other domains of life and work. The Co-Working Space has grown out of the need for adults to come together to network and share resources, where they otherwise might have had to choose between a 9-5 job and relative isolation as an artist, freelancer or entrepreneur; Hacker Spaces allow people to work on projects and build things together while sharing ideas, equipment, and knowledge; Meet-up offers community connections and gathering for like-minded people to connect. Adult training centers like General Assembly, a global learning environment, offer courses and training for career-oriented lifelong learning. These are all amazing, effective and timely offerings! However, they’re almost entirely geared towards adults.

So why not apply these same principles to learning options for children and teens?

Today’s youth increasingly value individualization and customization; if given a choice they will reject options that lack relevant personal benefit or growth. Young people don’t want to learn in isolation any more than adult freelancers want to work at home alone in their living rooms. We are social beings who crave face-to-face community.

Independent learning spaces and micro-schools are affordable, agile and customizable solutions for young learners to come together, build, make, collaborate, learn, and study. And the beautiful thing is that there’s no limit to how many can exist. Compared with the cost of private schools in our area microschools and various forms of cooperative environment can be as little as 25% of the cost of same-area private schools. Smaller schools with a central value on meeting the needs of the community members are generally much more able to design and pivot in response to learners’ individual needs.

How the Micro-school Movement Will Grow

Micro-schools are not new. In California, current micro-learning environments include:

● Parent-run learning co-ops, where families collectively hire a teacher and design or commission the curriculum.

● One-room schoolhouses in which an enterprising teacher gathers students to learn together.

● Educators-turned-entrepreneur running small businesses with direct-to-consumer classes offering a la carte class, whole day or multiple days classes in various subjects. Quantum Camp, Share Path Academy and Sunnyside Micro-School are a few examples.

● Aggregation of class offerings available for and by micro-schools and independent learners through companies like Outschool and others like Cottage Class which is innovating to connect spaces, teachers and families.

It starts when an individual has a vision; It could be a teacher, or a parent, an entrepreneur or even a student! It can be part-time, full-time or perhaps a series of specialty classes. Micro-schools take place in homes, businesses and community centers. They might be a series of pop-up environments, interactive experiences, or roving field trip series. The options are unlimited!

Imagine the benefits of joining the old and the new, the traditional school converging with the freedom, agency, love of learning and customization possible in these modern learning models. As we continue to find innovative ways to connect the people who are already creating micro-learning environments and to inspire more people to create new versions, we are creating the future of learning.


[1] Unschooling is often called “child-led learning.” As this name suggests, unschooling allows children to follow their own interests at their own pace, without direction from adults. In this sense, parents act less as teachers and more as facilitators, watching to see what the children are interested in, and then providing the environment, resources, and opportunities to explore those interests. From: Education Corner