Monday, August 7, 2023

The LIAS Learning Principles: Then and Now


By Sam Piha

We launched the Learning in Afterschool & Summer (LIAS) project over ten years ago. The LIAS project was designed to unify the field of afterschool and focus the movement on quality through promoting young people’s learning. The LIAS project promotes five core, evergreen learning principles that should guide the design and implementation of quality afterschool programs. These learning principles are strongly supported by recent research on brain development, education, youth development, and the growing science of learning. The LIAS Learning Principles had a foundational influence on the development of the California Quality Standards for Expanded Learning Programs.

We believe these Learning Principles are still very relevant. Because of the recent turnover of afterschool staff, exacerbated by the COVID pandemic, the LIAS Learning Principles should be foundational to orientation and training of new staff. The Learning Principles are also very relevant to STEM and other trends in afterschool programming. Below we have interviewed several afterschool and educational leaders regarding the relevancy of the LIAS Learning Principles.  

“On June 16, 2010, 20 adult and youth leaders gathered in Oakland to discuss and determine what five principles would be a guide to our community educators as they designed their programs to provide rich learning opportunities. The five principles would communicate to school-day educators how expanded learning was intentionally designed with learning principles that are widely recognized by all educators. At that time, California’s State afterschool funding was $550 million serving about 50 percent of the State’s Local Educational Agencies (LEAs). Now, the State funding is over $4.5 billion, and almost 100 percent of LEAs receive funding.” – Michael Funk, Director of Expanded Learning, California Department of Education

  June 16, 2010, meeting with afterschool leaders to formulate the LIAS Learning Principles. 

At the end of this blog, we review the 5 LIAS Learning Principles. You can learn more about the LIAS Learning Principles by viewing this video. You can also view past LIAS Blogs on this topic here.

“I think that the Learning Principles in the Learning in Afterschool and Summer Project really get at the core of learning for students starting in early childhood going through the university.” – Dr. Deborah Vandell, former Dean of the School of Education, UC Irvine, and leading afterschool researcher

Michael Funk, Director of Expanded Learning, California Department of Education

Q: These principles were developed before the California Expanded Learning Standards. How did they influence the California Standards?

A: In 2014, the California Department of Education worked with the California Afterschool Network and a statewide workgroup of diverse stakeholders to create California’s Quality Standards for Expanded Learning. As the work commenced, I directed this workgroup to use the LIAS Principals and the Youth Development Framework as the foundation for the new Quality Standards.

Q: Why do you believe these learning principles are important?

A: The LIAS principles must be elevated to guide our community and school-day educators as they develop any high-quality Expanded Learning Opportunities Program. When I came to the California Department of Education nearly 12 years ago, hardly anyone understood what a high-quality afterschool program looked like. Furthermore, for summer programs, people only pictured traditional summer school. I set up meetings with other Division Directors, and I presented the LIAS postcard as the vehicle to explain what makes an expanded learning program high-quality. As they reviewed the card, within the first minute I heard, “This is what high-quality teaching looks like during the school day!” The LIAS principles were developed to provide youth workers (community educators) a succinct approach to communicate that afterschool and summer programs were places of learning.

The LIAS principles are more relevant now than ever. With the massive expansion of Expanded Learning in California, there are hundreds of school districts and charter schools that still believe Expanded Learning is “after-care.” The LIAS principles, combined with the quality standards, are necessary to help leaders understand how every student and family should have access to and in fact deserve high-quality Expanded Learning opportunities. 

Dr. Carol Tang, Executive Director at the Children’s Creativity Museum in San Francisco and Former Director of the Coalition for Science After School

Q: Can you briefly speak to the value of the LIAS Learning Principles to the Science, Technology, Engineering & Math (STEM) movement?

A: By coupling STEM with LIAS principles, we elevate the discussion about science in afterschool--rather than debate which topics to cover, we can instead focus on the characteristics evident in high quality science programming. If youth workers embrace LIAS, they will understand the fundamental elements which will make STEM successful in their programs. In this way, we not only increase the quality of afterschool science, but we can also foster an environment where science activities are sustainable in the long-term.

Q: Can you speak a bit more about the need you have experienced for training on Learning Principles to guide the development of quality STEM activities? 

A: There is a misconception that STEM is about imparting a set of facts or concepts. Thus, training staff on effective learning principles in general is a way to guide the selection, development, and implementation of high-quality STEM activities. If youth workers can recognize the factors which promote active engagement and learning, then they can select science activities which engage youth and foster scientific skills--such as asking good questions, sharing ideas and testing hypotheses.

“LIAS principles outline the program characteristics most likely to foster scientific inquiry and sense-making in youth and help them recognize the relevance of science and technology to their future. LIAS principles help clarify what high-quality science in out-of-school settings should look like and makes STEM accessible to youth development and afterschool staff. What I like best about LIAS is that it allows OST professionals to view STEM as a way to achieve their youth outcomes using existing best practices in youth development--science afterschool is seen as part of good youth development, rather than an added burden on afterschool program staff.” - Dr. Carol Tang, former Director of Coalition for Science After School

Bill Fennessy, Program Specialist for Workforce Initiatives, Equity and Quality at the California Afterschool Network (CAN) 

Q: Can you speak to the value of the LIAS Learning Principles for afterschool programs?

A: The LIAS principles speak directly to the components required to create a quality instructional delivery framework. When implemented, programs can truly engage the youth of today. While many successful afterschool and summer programs already embody and demonstrate the LIAS principles, these principles now being clearly identified, defined, and articulated, will provide for an understandable and intentional approach to attain successful quality programming across the field. In addition, the LIAS principles provide a common language for the field of afterschool that has been up until now, missing and desperately needed.   

I have personally seen the LIAS principles easily taught to line staff, which might not have been intuitive to them previously. I have witnessed the empowering affect it has had on them, resulting in improved program quality. The LIAS principles have also given them the ability to understand for themselves, and communicate with others, their vital role and the value of afterschool and summer programming.  

LIAS Learning Principles 

1. Effective Learning is Active: Learning and memory recall of new knowledge is strengthened through different exposures – seeing, hearing, touching, and doing. Afterschool learning should be the result of activities that involve young people in “doing” – activities that allow them to be physically active, stimulate their innate curiosity, and that are hands-on and project-based. 

2. Effective Learning is Collaborative: Knowledge should be socially centered, as collaborative learning provides the best means to explore new information. Afterschool programs are well positioned to build skills that allow young people to learn as a team. 

3. Effective Learning is Meaningful: Young people are intrinsically motivated when they find their learning meaningful. This means having ownership over the learning topic and the means to assess their own progress. Motivation is increased when the learning is relevant to their own interests, experiences, and the real world in which they live. 

4. Effective Learning Supports Mastery: Young people tell us they are most engaged when they are given opportunities to learn new skills. If young people are to learn the importance and joy of mastery, they need the opportunity to learn and practice a full sequence of skills that will allow them to become “really good at something.” 

5. Effective Learning Expands Horizons: Young people benefit by learning opportunities that take them beyond their current experience and expand their horizons. Learning about new things and new places promotes a greater sense of potential of what they can achieve and brings a sense of excitement and discovery to the learning environment.

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