Awhile back, a group of people, through the Design School at Stanford, pondered the idea of what a Stanford education might look like in 2025. The process they went through and their thoughts on the current and potential future state of on-campus higher education at Stanford are quite interesting.
With all of the talk about digital disruption, MOOCs, learning outcomes, and the (perceived) decline in the importance of on-campus, residential liberal arts education, it’s refreshing to see a team think about the broader context of higher education: “College has multiple aims: it’s a place to gain expertise and develop abilities, but also to come of age. These are entwined together in a residential college experience―a complex and special setting. Enormous energy and investment are now being placed in experimentation and pioneering in the online learning space. We wanted to complement these efforts with an exploration of learning and living on campus, now and in the future.”
In short, the team came up with four main themes (or, as the team calls them, “four provocations”) about how a Stanford education might be different in 2025:
- Education will be fully envisaged as a lifelong journey, rather than a one-shot, four-year stint. The Stanford team’s idea, called “The Open Loop University,” will entail “six years of non-linear residential learning” so that students drop in and out of the on-campus experience during their lifetime to join a diverse, fluid community of learners.
- The education will focus more on skill acquisition than disciplinary topics and therefore the university will be organized around competency hubs, rather than academic fields. This will change the focus of education from what students know to how they use the knowledge. Faculty will work in cross-disciplinary teams to teach students various competencies and skills. Based on this new way of teaching and learning, the school will replace transcripts with skill prints – a “dynamic portfolio of student skills and experiences . . . designed to show employers not what they have taken, but what they have to give.”
- The education model will move from an industrial revolution-style, one-size-fits-few freshman/sophomore/junior/senior classification to a personal-paced learning program over a student’s six years of higher education. The first phase, Calibrate, will help students discover how they learn best and consider various learning paths through micro courses, biometric sensors, and spaces designed to help students unplug, decompress, and reflect. The second phase, Elevate, will have a personal board of advisors guiding students through an intensive “deep dive” academic experience and small student cohorts live together, along with faculty, in discipline-based learning communities. The final phase, Activate, takes place when students are ready to test their knowledge in the real world.
- The school will move away from having students declare a major, toward having them declare a purpose – and student learning will be built around this purpose. Purpose learning will require the university to set up Impact Labs across the world so that students and faculty can work with local leaders to solve real-world problems, learning from the successes and failures along the way. This purpose- and project-based learning will allow students to achieve “mastery with meaning.”
Pretty interesting stuff. While much of what the team came up with would be very resource-intensive, it’s nice to hear more about how undergraduate, residential, and liberal arts education can be re-envisioned. Thanks, Stanford, for some fresh thinking.
In conclusion, just two words for the Stanford folks, so their heads don’t get too big: The Play.
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