A Higher Ed Elevator Pitch to Priscilla Chan and Mark Zuckerberg

What arguments would you make?

December 2, 2015

Mark Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan have pledged to give away 99% of their Facebook wealth. ($45 billion in today’s dollars). Part of that pledge is to support advances in learning.

Let’s do a thought experiment.

You find yourself in an elevator with Mark and Priscilla. You have 90 seconds to make a pitch as to why some of the investments that the family plans to make in long-term innovations in learning should go to higher ed.

How would you make your case?

I think that I would make 2 quick arguments (45 seconds each):

Elevator Pitch #1 - The real challenge of the 21st century is expanding opportunities to receive a liberal arts education.

I’d start by asking the couple if they think that the jobs of today will be the jobs of tomorrow? My bet is that they will say no.

I’ll then ask them what the most important skills they think that their daughter will need to thrive in adulthood? They will say the ability to create, communicate, collaborate, and take risks.

I will then ask them what sort of college that they think will best prepare their daughter for her future? They will say a school with a strong liberal arts focus.

At that point I’ll ask if a liberal arts education should be reserved for only those most privileged in our society?

We will talk about how the dominant narrative in postsecondary education is one that pushes dollars and students towards pre-professional programs.

Neither the market or public policy is clearing a path to a liberal arts education for anyone but the privileged few.

This market and policy failure seems to be the perfect place that philanthropy dollars would be well invested.

Elevator Pitch #2 - Trying to scale the higher order aspects of learning is a mistake.  Instead, we should scale foundational content acquisition and other areas around education so that we can find resources to support educators.

I would ask Priscilla and Mark what has been most influential in their own education? Inevitably, whenever you ask someone that question they will talk about an educator. An educator who took the time to get to know you as an individual, who pushed you outside of your comfort zone, and who opened up new avenues of mastery and new ways of seeing the world.

My hope is that this quick discussion would help Priscilla and Mark see that authentic education about relationships, and is therefore not amenable to scale.

Getting Mark Zuckerberg to admit that not everything is conforms to the economics of of the internet may be tough, but it is a necessary first step.

What can be scaled are all those things that precede and surround advanced learning.  We can scale the development of foundational knowledge. We can scale the underlying administrative technologies that enable teaching and learning.  We can even scale much of the assessment and credentialing aspects of higher education.

What can’t be scaled is the educator / learner relationship that catalyzes questioning, new thinking, and mastery.

Any investment in educational technology needs to be balanced with investments in educators.

The most powerful personalized learning platform ever invented is a skilled and well-supported educator.

How would you change / refine / improve this elevator pitch?



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