By Sam Piha
We launched the Learning in Afterschool & Summer (LIAS) project ten years ago. At the time, there was a great debate as to whether afterschool programs should be focused on academic or youth development outcomes. The LIAS project was designed to unify the field of afterschool and focus the movement on promoting young people’s learning. This is especially important as youth return to afterschool programs after a year of isolation.
We believe that if afterschool programs are to achieve their full potential, they must be known as important places of learning that excite young people in the building of new skills, the discovery of new interests, and opportunities to achieve a sense of mastery. The LIAS Learning Principles became a foundational part of the California Quality Standards for Expanded Learning Programs.
"We spend so much time focused on 'achievement' and so little time focused on how to motivate students to learn. The principles advocated by LIAS strikes the right balance and make sense… The principles contained in LIAS promote such an approach, and if applied with fidelity, could lead to real improvements in educational outcomes for kids." - Pedro Noguera, Dean, USC Rossier School of Education
The LIAS project promotes five core, evergreen learning principles that should guide the design and implementation of afterschool programs. These learning principles are strongly supported by recent research on brain development, education, youth development, and the growing science of learning. They are also well aligned with the 21st century learning skills and workforce skills that young people will need to succeed in the years ahead, as well as efforts to increase young people’s interest in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM). Each of the learning principles cited below support each other and together provide an important framework for afterschool programming.
"All five principles are critical. They collectively provide the relevance so desperately needed for students to become engaged and for learning to become alive for them. They also provide the deeper understanding and the discovery of learning that is critical for success in school and life."
- Dr. Willard Daggett, Founder and Chairman, Int'l Center for Leadership in Education
Below are the LIAS Learning Principles.
1. Effective Learning is Active:
Learning and memory recall of new knowledge is strengthened through different exposures – seeing, hearing, touching, and doing. Afterschool learning should be the result of activities that involve young people in “doing” – activities that allow them to be physically active, stimulate their innate curiosity, and that are hands-on and project-based. Hands-on learning involves the child in a total learning experience, which enhances the child’s ability to think critically.
"Either we work to replicate limiting, and even oppressive, conditions for learners or we create experiences that empower them to fully realize their potential as individuals and to engage in transformative action that promotes justice and equity. I think that the LIAS principles are essential to guaranteeing an education for freedom and for fully realizing the promise of all students and that of our great nation of immigrants."
- Pilar O’ Cadiz, Education Director, TANMS Engineering Research Center at UCLA
2. Effective Learning is Collaborative:
Knowledge should be socially centered, as collaborative learning provides the best means to explore new information. Afterschool programs are well positioned to build skills that allow young people to learn as a team. This includes listening to others, supporting group learning goals, resolving differences and conflicts, and making room for each member to contribute his or her individual talents. Collaborative learning happens when learners engage in a common task where each individual depends on and is accountable to each other.
3. Effective Learning is Meaningful:
Young people are intrinsically motivated when they find their learning meaningful. This means having ownership over the learning topic and the means to assess their own progress. Motivation is increased when the learning is relevant to their own interests, experiences, and the real world in which they live. Community and cultural relevance is especially important to new immigrant youth and those from minority cultures.
Rather than learning that is focused on academic subjects, young people in afterschool can apply their academic skills to their areas of interest and real world problems. Also, when learning involves responsibility, leadership, and service to others, it is experienced as more meaningful.
4. Effective Learning Supports Mastery:
Young people tell us they are most engaged when they are given opportunities to learn new skills. If young people are to learn the importance and joy of mastery, they need the opportunity to learn and practice a full sequence of skills that will allow them to become “really good at something.” Afterschool activities should not promote the gathering of random knowledge and skills. Rather, afterschool learning activities should be explicitly sequenced and designed to promote the layering of skills that allows participants to create a product or demonstrate mastery in a way they couldn’t do before. Programs often achieve this by designing activities that lead to a culminating event or product that can be viewed and celebrated by peers and family members. For older youth, many programs are depending on apprenticeship models to assist youth in achieving a sense of mastery.
5. Effective Learning Expands Horizons:
Young people, especially those from low-income families and neighborhoods, benefit by learning opportunities that take them beyond their current experience and expand their horizons. Learning about new things and new places promotes a greater sense of potential of what they can achieve and brings a sense of excitement and discovery to the learning environment. Afterschool programs have the flexibility to go beyond the walls of their facilities. They can use the surrounding community as a classroom and bring in individuals and businesses that young people may not otherwise come into contact with. Expanding young people’s horizons also includes helping them to develop a global awareness. This includes increasing their knowledge of other cultures and places and their understanding of the issues and problems we have in common across cultural and political divides.
"The five LIAS principles are perfectly aligned with a 21st century learning approach – active, meaningful, collaborative learning projects that provide opportunities to expand one’s horizons and master important knowledge and skills – this is the heart of 21st century learning."
- Bernie Trilling, Founder & CEO, 21st Century Learning Advisors
We have developed a number of resources to guide the design and implementation of afterschool programs. These resources include videos, reports on exemplary practices, educational materials and program guides. These all can be found on our LIAS website.
As schools prepare to re-open, afterschool program staff need to consider the experiences of youth who have been away from school and their friends due to the COVID-19 pandemic. We know these vary greatly depending on family income and racial/ ethnic background. What are young people's needs? What should we, as afterschool staff, do to help youth thrive when they return to afterschool programs post COVID? How might we build back school and program culture and a sense of "family" spirit and connection in our afterschool programs? Join Stu Semigran and a panel of afterschool program experts to learn how best to help youth thrive as they return to school and afterschool. To get more information and to register for our next Speaker's Forum, click here.
Sam Piha is the founder and principal of Temescal Associates, a consulting group dedicated to building the capacity of leaders and organizations in education and youth development.