April 19, 2023

Microschools and Learning Pods: A Movement of Education Innovation

By: Frances Floresca

When the COVID-19 pandemic closed schools and disrupted learning for students, many parents were concerned about how their children would keep up with their education. 

However, this led parents and educators to rethink traditional education.

It started with many parents starting to homeschool their children, or sending them to charter and private schools that opened sooner than traditional public schools. 

But the pandemic also cleared a path for education entrepreneurs to create microschools and learning pods.

So what are these forms of learning anyway? 

Microschools and learning pods are alternative forms to traditional schooling, and they can be seen as a “mid-point” between private schools and homeschools. These forms of “permissionless educationare considered a reinvention of the one-room schoolhouse, and they create personalized learning experiences tailored to the individual needs of students.

Some of these schools operate as private schools or learning centers with full-time or part-time options for homeschoolers. Often started by dissatisfied parents or former educators, these schools are rethinking the way education should be delivered to students.

Microschools and learning pods are some of the innovative approaches to enhance learning and address the shortcomings of the current education system, which was developed during a time when different skill sets were required for employment. 

While these schools became popular during the pandemic, it is not truly known when they came into existence. Some even trace the origin of microschools to the United Kingdom in 2000’s, and others say it happened in the 2010’s when the British education blogger Cushla Berry coined the term. 

There are different types of microschools and learning pods. From the schools I have visited, not one is alike, even among the schools that belong to a network including Acton Academy, Prenda, and KaiPod Learning Center. Some are Montessori-focused, faith-based, arts-oriented, and some help students build up their careers. Many microschool and learning pod leaders also meet together, and learn from each on how to build up their schools. 

One of them was The Forest School, an Acton Academy in Atlanta, Georgia, where students lead the classrooms and make the rules. Of course, they have adults around who are known as “guides,” who create the learning culture and monitor the progress of the students. 

Another school was a KaiPod Learning Center in Roswell, Georgia, which is designed around homeschool and online students. This KaiPod I visited had students doing their online classes and assignments, then they would take breaks to do learning activities, such as learning how to make ice cream or lava lamps. 

One of my favorite schools I have visited is the Nevada School of Inquiry, which was started by a married couple who used to be school district and charter school educators who wanted to try a new form of learning for students. Self-exploration is a key aspect to the school’s philosophy, and it fosters an environment where students engage with their surroundings. 

However, despite the increasing number of these schools, many of them are “underground schools” and operate in the shadows due to concerns about state and local laws. Even the microschools and learning pods that openly operate had to overcome barriers to entry and work around these laws. For example, many of them cannot even be called schools or even use the titles “teacher” and “student.” 

In order to encourage more education innovation for these schools, state legislatures all over the country should consider easing and removing barriers to entry in order to enable these learning opportunities. 

To learn more about microschools, check out the National Microschooling Center.