What to learn

Common Ground Collaborative in ITM

Learning does not live in a vacuum

In the latest of a series of articles about the Common ground Collaborative Kevin Bartlett explains how the Common Ground Collaborative focuses on learning that matters.

The story so far . . . . 

In our last article, we defined the CGC’s interactive helix of Conceptual, Competency and Character Learning as the DNA of learning. To extend the metaphor, DNA does not live in a vacuum. It shapes a body. So, another question presents itself. ‘What body of knowledge is important for these learners, right now?’. As we set out to identify learning that really matters, we framed our DESIGN question like this: ‘What’s Worth Learning and Why? ‘. Our response to that question works on multiple, connected levels.

It’s worth learning about our human common ground . . . . 

As our principal content organizer, we have identified 6 Human Commonalities, which preserve the essence of traditional disciplines (e.g. Physics), while opening the door to emergent ‘proto-disciplines’ e.g. Innovation. The Commonalities encourage both deep disciplinary learning and the exploration of broad, powerful ideas that transcend disciplinary boundaries. They provide ‘The Why’ behind the disciplines and are framed by pairings of universal concepts, amplified by ‘We all’ statements expressing our common ground.

Vertical Connections . . .

The Human Commonalities provide the vertical organizers for a Learning Matrix comprising powerful Learning Modules, organized for connection and coherence.

 . . .  and Horizontal Connections

We then add horizontal connections via three Thematic Questions, which spiral through the developmental bands, providing an annual connecting focus: 

It’s worth learning to be experts

CGC develops learning experts, both child and adult. Experts have a deep conceptual understanding of the ideas of their knowledge domain, and high levels of competency in domain skills. To complement conceptual and competency expertise we are committed to producing expert human beings, with strong, positive moral character.

Consequently we identify specific Domain Conceptual and Competency Learning Goals in every Learning Module. We also provide Character Learning Goals. These are ‘domain agnostic’ and used in all Commonalities.


It’s worth learning to be experts in contexts that really matter

CGC Modules


We recognize that it is possible to become a technical expert in a domain without engaging with vital issues like justice, equity, freedom, and the use of power. In order to ensure that CGC learners engage with these issues we use them to shape the Compelling Questions that drive every CGC Learning Module.



It’s worth learning to tackle complex challenges that demand urgency and agency

CGC learners become learning experts in the context of modules that matter. These may be grounded in one Commonality but draw from others in natural ways that connect and complement learning.

As a further extension and application of their learning, we have also designed a systemic way for learners to tackle challenges and opportunities that are so pressing and so significant that they demand a multi-disciplinary approach, a collaborative methodology and a commitment to taking action. These are the CGC Complexity Challenges.

We envisage teams of learners, teachers and, potentially, external experts, working on these Challenges as a passion project in their preferred domain. They collaborate to find solutions and plan actions, then come together to share their learning with other teams and with other community learning stakeholders in a major Learning Demonstration.

Complexity Challenges are planned using the Compelling Questions model, extended across the Commonalities. Here’s an example:

What’s worth learning and why?

In CGC, we believe that it’s worth learning about our human common ground, that it’s worth learning to become experts in important knowledge domains and  that it’s worth learning how to build our expertise in the context of substantive content that really matters. Ultimately, it’s worth learning how to exercise our agency, and work with urgency, to take action on the pressing challenges and opportunities that face humanity, right here, right now.

That’s what’s worth learning .  . . and why.


Kevin Bartlett has held leadership positions in the UK, Tanzania, Namibia, Austria and Belgium, where he was most recently Director of the International School of Brussels (ISB), from 2001-2015. Kevin is a regular author, a keynoter/workshop leader at multiple international and national conferences, and a consultant/coach on a wide range of themes, including Leading and Governing on Principle. He was a founding board member of CIS.


Learn more about why Kevin founded the Common Ground Collaborative with other like-minded educators in this ITM article from September 2020: 


Start with why