The Endeavor Based University is a decentralized education at its finest. The technology and infrastructure is already there such that anyone can learn practically anything from anywhere they have an internet connection. At a fraction of the cost of a university degree, they could even take advantage of non-virtual resources like libraries, fab labs, hacker spaces, apprenticeships, and mentorship.
Universities and other educational institutions have the opportunity to recast themselves as network nodes in this decentralized network of learning, that is, natural accumulations of peers, expertise, resources, and facilities that can vastly accelerate an individual student's learning as well as advance a certain agenda: civic and democratic engagement, cross-cultural collaboration, humanistic values, etc.
Think about the portrait of a typical college student's experience that Goodman drew earlier. Imagine what a university education could be, instead.
Imagine if the university were instead project based or endeavor based, and interdisciplinary instead of divided into disciplines. Each student would still have a major, but from the very beginning they would be working on real world projects in small teams instead of sitting in lectures for the first two years that had little to do with what they might actually be doing after they graduate. That way, they could decide from the beginning if that major was what they really wanted to be doing, instead of having to wait until their third or fourth year to find out.
These teams, rather than working on a contrived academic project, would be working on a real project with real value for someone. It could be working hand in hand with a professor on his research project, working with a real startup, or even a project a corporation or company had. Or, it could be a completely student driven initiative: a startup, a community improvement or activism project, or even a local political campaign.
The team would be interdisciplinary, as a real world team would be. For example, imagine if the project were to try and launch a new product. Engineers, industrial designers, graphic designers, etc. would be needed, of course. But also business students, entrepreneurship majors, an accounting major. A psychology or sociology student could be recruited, whose role would be customer discovery and to be the customer advocate on the team.
Or imagine a team that decided they wanted to run for a local political science office. That could include political science majors, sociology majors, a journalism student, even a systems or industrial engineer.
Or even if students wanted to work with a professor on a research project not based on disciplinary choice, either on a team or 1 on 1, that would be an option as well.
Lecture classes as we know them would be gone. Instead of learning abstract knowledge, memorizing it for the test, then promptly forgetting it after the course was over, there would be just in time learning, roughly analogous to just in time manufacturing in lean. In just in time manufacturing, rather than expensively storing hundreds of extra pieces in a warehouse until they're needed, costs are cut by using superior organization to deliver parts to the factory only when they're needed.
In just in time learning, students would learn only what they needed to know to complete what they were working on at that particular moment in their project. If they needed to learn differential equations to design a particular engine piece, their learning facilitator would direct them to the textbook or online tutorial series they needed to learn that, and to a professor on campus that could help them if they got stuck. So instead of learning a bunch of theory without application that has no real application or context or meaning for them, they would learn the material much more effectively because it meant something to them. It was something they learned, not something a professor taught them. Those differential equations would live on in their memory and experience as that engine piece they designed that was actually being used in a car somewhere.
And the students would be creating real value in the world, something most of us have never had the opportunity, never been trusted to do until after we graduate. This would create tighter bonds between the university, its students, and the community. The university would come to be seen as a community resource where the nation's youth could be employed to solve some of the world's, the nation's, or the community's most pressing problems, keeping it relevant in an age where someone can get just as quality an education (though not the credentials) online at a fraction of the cost.
Rather than learning only a particular set of technical skills, which are likely to be out of date as soon as they graduate or soon thereafter, the students would learn those in addition to the real gems: learning how to collaborate, work in teams, set and achieve their own objectives, be self-starters, problem solve an ambiguous real world problem, create real value for others, build consensus, think critically and creatively, and take action to achieve real, measurable change. In other words, the higher-level skills that are needed in a creative, networked society where outsourcing and automation are rapidly making those skills necessary to get a job or even better, create a job where one didn't exist previously.
Of course, this idea brings up many questions to answer, which I'll explore in future articles. For example, how does a liberal arts education fit into this idea? How do you measure the results of students' learning or the efficacy of the university in such a system? Among others. So stay tuned.
Dillon Dakota Carroll
...sees much and knows much