Innovative Approaches to Education: Expeditionary Learning

By Larry Bernstein

Third grade was a nightmare. My son had a morning teacher and an afternoon teacher. The difference between them was night and day and so was my son’s performance. The afternoon teacher had no systems of any sort in place and no understanding of how to deal with my son, and he was ostracized. It was as if she had not even looked at or considered his IEP. The morning teacher, however, recognized his challenges and utilized unique approaches to education, like Expeditionary Learning, to help him be his best.

Expeditionary Learning

Expeditionary Learning (EL) employs a curriculum which focuses on learning through collaborative exploration inside and outside of the classroom. It is based on a partnership between the Harvard Graduate School of Education and Outward Bound, USA. The Harvard educators’ philosophy focuses on an active approach to learning while Outward Bound’s focus revolves around teamwork, courage, and compassion. Together, they created 10 founding principles for the EL Education model. The principles stress connection to the natural world, balance between collaboration and competition with oneself, and a desire for curiosity and self-discovery. The goal is to increase student engagement and expand achievement by focusing on three core areas: High-Quality Student Work, Character, and Mastery of Knowledge and Skills. The thinking is this will enable students to enter adult life ready to be judged by both the quality of their work and character.

Expeditionary Learning in Practice

The principals noted above form the basis for the 160 or so Expeditionary Learning institutions in the US. One of the first schools in the country to employ the EL program was Clairemont Elementary school. Located in Decatur, Georgia, the public K-3 school was created in 1936 and instituted the EL program in 1994. The school whose motto is, “Learning Together with Our Heads, Hearts and Hands” challenges its students to think critically and become actively engaged in their classrooms and communities. The EL program at Clairemont has been a fantastic success and gained the school a number of accolades over the years including being named a National Blue Ribbon School in 2015​. Because of the program’s success, Decateur implemented the program in all of its K-3 schools.


The educators at Clairemont strive to provide an education that focuses on the group, while respecting the skills of the individual. As with Clairemont, ONEder’s core belief is that every student is unique in terms of their skills, interests, and ability, and that a personalized learning experience should be available to every student. For educators, one of the primary challenges in providing that experience is the crush of paperwork, data collection and analysis. It’s enough to leave one exhausted before they even enter the classroom! Because of this, ONEder has created a platform that enables educators to seamlessly deliver personalized lessons, manage student IEP goals, and track student progress through one simple, easy-to-use platform.

ONEder can be accessed through any device, including iPhones and tablets, making it an ideal supplement to approaches like Expeditionary Learning. It also has a data tracking mechanism that allows educators to analyze and adjust their instruction, bringing an additional layer of personalization.

What if the third grade afternoon teacher had recognized my son’s unique challenges? What if she was able to make him feel part of the classroom community and had the tools discussed in this article at her disposal? These are questions I think about often.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.