innovation based learning

A Look into Innovation-Based Learning

Dr. Joe Sanchez is the CEO & founder of Innovation-Based Learning (IBL) and has made a large impact on his community by significantly enhancing the current education system.

He has been thinking and researching Innovation-Based Learning since the mid-1980’s when he wrote a paper in his Master’s program called, “Real-World Curriculum.” The idea behind this was his belief that “​the curriculum needed to be more in line with what people needed in the real world.”

After completing his Masters from the University of Texas-UTRGV (formally Pan American University), he went on to obtain his Ph.D. in Psychology from Texas A & M University-College Station, Texas. For the past 37 years, he has worked either as an educator or mental health professional at all educational levels, from Pre-k through university graduate programs.

I recently got the chance to catch up with Dr. Sanchez regarding his work on Innovation-Based Learning:

What is Innovation-Based Learning (IBL)?

“IBL is very straight forward. When you enter an IBL institution, students will undergo a variety of activities to assist them in determining what they are passionate about… and they will make that their focus while learning all their courses such as English, Math, Science, History, Arts, Spanish, Psychology, etc. In other words, from the time students walk on to campus until the time they complete, students will anchor their learning, on their passion. What makes Innovation-Based Learning pedagogy unique is the comprehensive nature of this instructional delivery process.

Everyone from the Board Room to the facility room (administrators, staff, teachers, and even janitors) are involved in the IBL process. This will ensure all stakeholders contribute to students’ identity with the IBL process. To this end, all students are considered ‘IBLers’. Students identifying as an IBLer will be supported, and cultivate a sense of pride and purpose in what they are learning in the classroom. IBL has not only contributed to student educational progress but has also lead to students developing innovative projects. Essentially, IBL is an education ecosystem. For example, IBL goes beyond schools, colleges, and universities and enlists the support and cooperation of cities, economic development corporations, and financial institutions. These stakeholders have expressed and demonstrated their willingness to assist and support IBLers in a variety of ways.”

How did your journey in Innovation-Based Learning first begin?

According to Dr. Sanchez, IBL stemmed from the many years being in the classroom teaching students.

“During this time, the concept of pedagogy was and continues to be regularly offered as a solution to the current severe difficulties in education completion at all instructional levels. Pedagogy is a way of teaching or delivering instruction. A popular pedagogy is one made well known by the father of education John Dewey called Project-Based Learning or PBL. However, PBL is a very old teaching approach still used today. PBL can be traced back to Confucius, Aristotle, and Socrates. This at least 80-year-old approach to delivering instruction is one that needs a revision to more adequately meet the educational needs of 21st-century students.

There are all types of pedagogies or approaches; such as project-based, solution-based, student-based learning, etc. However, education has to go beyond instruction delivery approaches or pedagogies and consider a paradigm change. IBL is a paradigm change, it’s more of a mindset as opposed to an instruction delivery approach or what I consider a technique. Consequently, any of these pedagogies can be utilized while employing IBL.

Quite often when I introduce IBL to schools, I hear ‘oh we use project-based learning’ I say, ‘that’s good, what kind of results have you achieved?’ School administrators frequently respond, “We can use some improvement.” Employing traditional pedagogies such as PBL alone does not curtail the lag in education completion as evidenced by current graduation data. My position is education has to move from simply a cognitive domain approach to an affective domain perspective. In other words, a more comprehensive paradigm or model that includes the affective domain is what is called for today to more adequately address the educational needs of students. Essentially, it is imperative education move to include rarely addressed student passion/interest as a focus of their learning. It is vital to advance education from a 20th century to 21st-century instructional model that incorporates the affective domain such as passion.

Currently, this new and dynamic world that is constantly changing, will require an education adjustment necessary to more adequately navigate society. Education demands a significant overhaul to better prepare students for careers and jobs that are not even presently conceived.”

How does the process of Innovation-Based Learning work?

“We already have an infrastructure; schools, curriculum, learning outcomes, and standards in place. All this infrastructure has already been established. Many education experts and influential thinkers advocate an “education revolution”. They promote the need to completely transform the education system as it currently operates. I do not think such a transformation is necessary. A comprehensive enhancement is what will make our educational system more relevant for our students.

Stated differently in a more what I call 21st century-correct manner, IBL can be understood as a new and upgraded “operating system” for education. Recognizing IBL as an updated “operating system” for education will make the utilization of IBL at all educational levels seamless. Essentially, using the computer system as an analogy for the education system, uploading (employing) the IBL “operating system” in education would contribute to a more efficient use of applications (teaching techniques) leading to effectiveness (academic completion). Additionally, in the classroom IBL organically activates what educators everywhere are loudly advocating these days including critical thinking, communication, collaboration, problem-solving, creativity, and leadership skills that have been absent from schools. This is exactly the skill set industry, community businesses and society have been clamoring for decades.

Think of IBL as an education ecosystem because it’s a network of schools, communities, and agencies that work together to help students succeed. We don’t just work with the schools, we also work within the communities. We set up labs in the communities to help the students with whatever they’re working on.”

What made you interested in this unique approach to learning?

“We have huge drop-out rates, incompletion rates, and several other education issues. For example, the data indicates, on average, across the country, we have approximately 15-18% completion rates at colleges and universities. That means we lose about 80% of our students, and high school is not much better.

If we don’t have people coming out of higher education, or high school, then we don’t have a skilled labor force that can or will meet the needs of industry, businesses, or society in general.

IBL has been employed in one of the most at-risk areas in the country and objective analyses of IBL indicate positive outcomes. Therefore, if IBL can produce positive results in such at-risk areas, IBL can undoubtedly deliver similar or even greater success.”

What is your learning philosophy?

“I believe and research supports that ​learning takes place most effectively when you activate or engage students’ passion because that is what motivates students and keeps them engaged.

Schools have been focused on the cognitive domain since the beginning of education. However, what schools have neglected is the affective domain, the emotional center of cognition. If you listen to stories of success, they always state, ‘make sure you are tapping into what you’re passionate about.’

Hence, education needs to support and nurture students’ passions to motivate and engage students while teaching them the essential knowledge and skills in each course. This would contribute to student retention and completion at all levels. There is a plethora of neuropsychological research that demonstrates the connection between passion, persistence and motivation, and the brain’s dopamine and serotonin pathways within the limbic system.”

Where do you see Innovation Based Learning going? What is the future for it?

“IBL is in its early phases of implementation within schools and communities. We have had the great fortune to present IBL across the country from east to west at national conferences. Now our objective is to continue to scale IBL into as many schools and communities as possible with the primary purposes being education attainment and economic development throughout the country. Innovation-Based Learning (IBL) will make this happen by motivating, educating, and graduating students.”

For more information on Innovation-Based Learning, visit IBL

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