ACE Overview

An introduction to

Learning Architecture , Learning Culture , Learning Ecology


The February 15, 2018 Webinar "ACE Introduction for Schools", is now available:

  View Now  

Led by NEASC/CIE Director Jeff Bradley, this 52-minute webinar presents an overview of the ACE structure - including the 5 Foundation Standards, the 10 Learning Principles and the stages of accreditation - and offers tips for schools working with the new protocol. The recording includes several minutes of open-ended Q and A at the end. If you have additional questions about ACE or your school's accreditation timing, please write us at


Transformative Accreditation

ACE introduces a fundamentally different approach to accreditation.

Why? Our concept of ‘learning’ – what ‘it looks like’, how it is nurtured or hindered, where and how it occurs, and what it means to be a learning-focused organization – has significantly changed thanks to social, economic, and technological shifts and dramatic new insights and understandings provided by brain research.

Yet, despite many efforts at reforming and reinventing the place we call ‘school’, education has made little progress in liberating itself from a 19th century factory model designed to produce mass literacy – and a compliant work force. For the most part ‘school’ continues to be a place where learning is equated with academic outcomes, content mastery, and uniformity of process and practice. ‘Learning’ remains largely de-personalized, is often confused with high stakes test results, and does not equip our children with the understandings, aptitudes, dispositions, values, and competencies needed to deal with the global dilemmas and challenges of our times.

  • ACE aims to transform rather than ‘improve’ schools and reshapes accreditation into an instrument to enable systemic change. ACE challenges the familiar language and ‘grammar’ of schooling and encourages ‘schools’ to become learning communities guided by a razor-sharp vision of learning in our times. And because a rich and growing “Bank of Representative Practice” underpins its rubrics, ACE serves as a portal to a global network of learning communities.
  • ACE asks learning communities to reflect on learner impacts rather than outputs and to identify the evidence required to validate the desired Impact. ACE aims to change the place called ‘school’ into an “interactive museum of learning opportunities” (Yong Zhao), envisioned and sustained by a community that shares and acts upon a common, explicit understanding of learning. Someone said: “All learning begins with and depends on a provocation.” ACE intends to be such a ‘provocation’.
  • ACE “meets schools where they are”; ACE serves, recognizes, and supports schools no matter where they may be on the “transformational learning continuum.” ACE invites all schools to reflect on how learning should illuminate the path to a better world for the next generation.

Learning Observation

While documentation (curriculum, policies, plans, procedures) is needed on a foundational level, ACE prioritizes observation of learning (and teaching) over voluminous documentation that may or may not reflect what actually happens in practice. With ACE the learning community’s energy is concentrated on defining, understanding, reflecting on, and embedding ‘learning’ as its central purpose and goal.

Learning Impacts

ACE’s conceptual shift moves accreditation from an input/output-oriented model to creating a learning eco-system, which looks for Impact of learning on the learner. Impact is not synonymous with results or examination scores. Impact does not mistake teacher ‘behaviors’ for evidence of Impact on the learner. Impact endeavors to measure the extent to which the learning community has achieved the overarching goals embedded in its learning architecture, culture and ecology.

Adaptive Evaluation

ACE accreditation reviews mirror what we know about effective learner assessment. One size does not fit all. With ACE identical accreditation cycles with identical requirements at identical “checkpoints” are a thing of the past. ACE Accreditation Reviews adapt to and take into account the specific needs of specific Learning Communities. A closer, more supportive relationship between the accrediting body and the Learning Community, based on synchronous as well as asynchronous interactions, is forged. 

Professional Assessment

The ACE model also extends to the composition of External Review Teams. As Teams shrink in size, the Volunteer/Peer model gives way to a blended Professional/Peer system. Smaller, learning-focused External Review Visits require a cadre of highly qualified and well-trained professionals and peers, who can be held accountable for their work. Thus, ACE accreditation requires a new set of skills on the part of the team members: they become “ethnographers”, “anthropologists” and qualitative researchers as they seek to understand, interpret, and assess a community’s learning eco-system and culture.

ACE: The Model 

The ACE acronym represents the three domains that create an interdependent and inter-related ‘Learning Eco-System’ sustained by ACE’s ten Learning Principles: Learning Architecture, Learning Culture, and Learning Ecology. The underlying metaphor is that of a house, designed by thoughtful architecture, enlivened by the vibrant culture of its inhabitants, and embedded in an ecology that defines its identity in space and time.

ACE is formative by design, firmly focused on school transformation in all areas, but primarily in a learning community’s core business: Learning. The ACE process is designed to support schools on the journey from ‘foundational functionality’ as a school that offers safe, secure, sustainable services to a successful learning community that is routinely achieving transformational learning Impacts on its learners. ‘Learners’ here naturally refers to the key learning stakeholders, the students, but is also intended as an inclusive term since, in genuine learning communities, all stakeholders learn, including the organization itself.

The ACE Accreditation protocol encompasses two distinct parts: five Foundation Standards and ten Learning Principles. As the term implies, the ACE Foundation Standards constitute the basic building blocks necessary for a school to function and to ensure that fundamental operational requirements are addressed. While the Learning Principles embrace a transformative approach designed to change ‘schools’ into reflective learning communities, the Foundation Standards represent the transactional relationships, structures, policies and systems without which a learning community cannot exist. As ‘schools’ chart their journey from transactional structures and organizations to communities focused on learning and designing their future, they transform from ‘schools’ (i.e. ‘places’) into ‘learning communities’ (i.e. learning eco-systems).


ACE: The Learning Eco-System

The Architecture of Learning defines what learners learn, why they learn it, how they learn it, how learning is assessed and communicated, to what extent learners are able to choose their own learning, and how the learning community knows that it has achieved the desired impact on the learner. In an environment characterized by a shared understanding and language of learning, learners demonstrate qualities of mind and heart that allow them to become responsible and successful citizens. An effective learning community fosters creative and critical thinking, performance, action, and entrepreneurship. In such a community learning and creating, thinking, doing, and ‘making’ are valued equally.

The Culture of Learning defines the learning community’s beliefs about the conditions that underpin effective learning, the norms and core values to which it adheres, and the impact leadership, governance, and staff have on the learning community’s sustainability and evolution. Learning culture represents the statutory as well as unspoken agreements woven into a fabric that creates community, sustains purpose and defines direction. Transformational learning communities have designed mechanisms that support intentional and systemic reflection, research, and future-oriented thinking.

The Ecology of Learning defines the physical and social/emotional ‘space’ in which learning occurs. It encompasses the nature of relationships, interactions, and communication within the learning community that sustain its values and norms. An effective learning ecology supports and is aligned with the architecture and culture of learning. Its principles are indispensable to the achievement of the purpose for which the learning community exists. Such communities also recognize that effective learning is not necessarily a function of fixed spaces, times, or forms.

To learn more about ACE, read the complete Introduction document (pdf, A4 size):

ACE Introduction (pdf)


  • Foundation Standards
  • Core Learning Principles
  • The Design Principles
  • The Phases
  • The Assessment
  • Significant Additional Features
  • The Learning Community Perspective

Sample templates are included.

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