Op-Ed: Let Learning Live

The following op-ed was published in Alexandria’s (Virginia) Gazette Packet on May 2, 2013.

Did you know:

  • Alexandria’s currently has around 146,000 residents, 30% of whom speak a language other than English at home.
  • Alexandria’s extraordinary arts community contributed $71 million in city economic activity, and 1,774 full-time equivalent jobs in 2010.
  • One of Alexandria’s most recent community health assessments ranked obesity, tobacco use, and substance abuse among the city’s greatest health challenges.
  • Volunteer Alexandria every year organizes “Spring for Alexandria” a one-day volunteer event to benefit our city and its non-profits.  This year it happens this Friday, May 3, at locations throughout the city.

Paul LachelierThese are just a few examples of facts that can help us better understand and engage with our city.  But how do we disseminate such facts to inform more city residents?

All the above facts were culled free from the websites of our city government, Volunteer Alexandria, and the U.S. Census Bureau.

However, as abundant and free is information on the internet, one still usually has to search for it to find it and use it.  Those more motivated to learn and engage thus benefit disproportionately from the internet and the Information Age more generally, while those less motivated to learn benefit much less.  This problem applies not just to city information, but to all kinds of information essential to personal and collective health and success.

Knowledge is indeed power.  Research shows that the more knowledge or education one has, the better are one’s employment prospects, income, health and community engagement.  Studies also show that people who are more informed about a given topic comprehend and problem-solve better and remember more about that topic.

Recently, I founded an educational non-profit in Alexandria called Learning Life to address this problem.  Learning Life’s mission is to inform and empower more people by printing knowledge on the surfaces of everyday life (health on table tents, poetry on cup sleeves, history on wallpaper, science on cereal boxes, etc.), then linking these surfaces to an ever growing world of learning online.

Learning Life’s mission is based on three educational realities: (a) learning doesn’t just happen in youth, (b) nor just in school, and (c) learning doesn’t just happen deliberately, but also incidentally.  We learn incidentally in everyday life from casual conversation with friends and family as well as from work, volunteering, television, the internet and various surfaces, like billboards and posters.  However, most of public education’s focus is on schools, not everyday life, and everyday life is filled with far more advertising than learning.

So, what if we started using everyday life surfaces to inform and engage more people in and about Alexandria?

This year, Learning Life is pursuing educational partnerships using everyday surfaces like table tents, drink coasters and fortune cookies to creatively inform and engage more Alexandrians about health and other issues, as well as to encourage more D.C. metro area residents to learn about Alexandria’s rich artistic offerings.  Those interested in learning more, or possibly partnering with Learning Life can contact us at email@learninglife.info.

If life is learning, let learning live.

Paul Lachelier, Ph.D.
Founder, Learning Life