Can We Reinvent Education?

I have been experimenting and daydreaming for many years about how education could be better for students (and, by extension, for faculty like me). More engaging. More productive. More lasting. More realistic. More fun.

There have been a plethora of articles, studies, and information put into the universe lately about innovative disruptions to the education system. From around the world (Finland to Japan). From here in the US. While some approaches are “cutting-edge”, some approaches have been around for a very long time. TED and other programs are getting in on the fun.

Most recently, my good friend and fellow education innovator Alex Bruton shared this Mindvalley Academy video with me. It is a very promising approach, but not quite there yet. I provide the transcript of the video below, and the some thoughts and reactions (search for “Thoughts and Reactions” to skip through the transcript).

Transcript of video follows:

Alan Watts, the great Zen philosopher once said:

No literate inquisitive, and imaginative person needs to go to college unless in need of a union card, or degree at the certified physician, lawyer, or teacher, or unless he requires access to certain heavy and expensive equipment for scientific research.

Yet when Watts wrote that in 1972, he couldn’t even have imagined what would be happening in the world today, with new technologies, rapid change, and shifts in how companies recruit. That would all combine to further make college kind of useless.

The Good Points of College

But the thing is, college has numerous good points:

  • We grow up.  
  • We mature.  
  • We make deep meaningful connections.  
  • We meet the friends and find the interests that ultimately define us.

So how can we completely re-engineer college to keep all of the good and disrupt all of the bad, obsolete points? Well, we think we have an idea. A new model that radically rethinks college. That questions all the rules about how we’ve been conditioned to believe education should look like, and takes advantage of emerging technologies, new social movements, new types of knowledge accessibility and new research on what truly creates happy, successful, fulfilled lives.

Ready to catch a glimpse? Okay, before I reveal this new model, first you gotta know what makes modern college so absurd in the first place. Let’s start with the length of time. So you take a teenager and you plant him in a bubble for 4 years. Same campus, surrounded by other nineteen-year-olds. Problem is, in today’s world things are changing at an exponential pace. Peter Diamandis said that between 2016 and 2022 there will be as many changes in the world due to exponential technology growth as between all of 1900 to 2000. Wow! 

So we have kids coming out of college with knowledge that has become totally obsolete in their four years on campus.

So what if we got rid of this four-year model? What if instead kids went to college for one month of the year. And then spend 11 months in the field. You know. Doing real work. Like having a job or starting a business. And then they come back for one month every year. What if this did not stop when you’re 22? What if it continued? What if this four years was stretched out? So you come back one month every year for 48 years? Sounds crazy. Hold on, we’re just getting started.

Second, what if we got rid of expensive campuses? Think about all of that wasted tuition fees. I was stuck in the same campus in Ann Arbor Michigan for four years. But the world is so much bigger. What if we did away with fixed campuses and instead move this college to a different city every year? What if we picked international amazing cities? Like Berlin, Singapore, Barcelona. Places filled with culture, places you dream of visiting? What if we could drop the price by ten-fold? No campus means huge cost savings.

But now, let’s look at another odd design about college. They say you are the sum of the five people closest to you. But at college you’re hanging out with other 19 year olds. What could you learn from the average 19 year old if you’re 19? When I went to college, I remember my freshman year, the coolest guys were the ones that could sneak is into a frat parties or buy us liquor. Not exactly brilliant. So, what if we disrupted this? What if age did not matter? Your friends could be 19 or 30 or 50. We learn from the wisdom of our elders. They learn from you. Age becomes irrelevant.

But then, there’s the curriculum itself. Neil Gaiman, the legendary writer, said of school:

I’ve been making a list of the things they don’t teach you at school. They don’t teach you how to love somebody. They don’t teach you how to be famous. They don’t teach you how to be rich or how to be poor. They don’t teach you how to walk away from someone you don’t love any longer. They don’t teach you how to know what’s going on in someone else’s mind. They don’t teach you what to say to someone who’s dying. They don’t teach you anything worth knowing.

And you know what I’m talking about. Yes, you get a 4-year degree. But does it need 4 years? More and more of the job related aspects of college are free online. Harvard, Berkeley, MIT – their courses are now online. Just go to You can learn anything from app development to physics for free. Study the classes you need for your chosen career, but why do we waste 4 years on a fixed campus, hanging out with 19 year olds, trying to get enough credits to fill some arbitrary degree that we might never ever use? The world is changing so fast. Many of the top jobs today were not available as college degrees a mere five years ago.

So what do you teach? You teach what Neil Gaiman preached – real-world skills:

  • How to lead, how to create a vision for your life, how to be a better parent, spouse, lover.
  • How to have healthy self-esteem and emotional intelligence.
  • Goal setting, crafting a vision for your life, entrepreneurship.
  • Personal growth skills, like how to keep fit and healthy, practice meditation and mindfulness.

These are the skills that truly lead to happy, successful lives. But you do not learn this in college. Which brings us to the teachers.

What About The Teachers?

Are the best teachers in the world today in the world’s universities? Not always, and here’s why. Teachers today have their hands tied more than ever. To survive as a teacher in a classical system, you are often rewarded for the research, much much more than your actual teachings. So as a student, you don’t always get the best learning experience. Books offered are quite dry, and classes not too engaging, leading you to disconnect and not truly retain the knowledge you’ve been given.

Those who have a true passion for teaching find themselves gravitating out of the traditional system. The very best teachers are the ones writing best-selling books, building their businesses, speaking at large seminars, speaking on the Ted stage. They have transcended the need to be stuck on a singular campus. Colleges may have great researchers and scientists. But not necessarily the best teachers. So what if you could learn from these people?

What if your teacher was someone whose work was so profound, he has sold 20 million books. Or broken a Guinness record. Or was a New York Times bestselling author. The best in the fields.

So let’s recap:

  • No more four years. It’s now one month a year.
  • No fixed campus. You move to a different spectacular city every year.
  • No fixed age. Your peers come from all around the world. And are of all ages.
  • No outdated curriculums. You learn the skills that actually matter to happiness and success and making an impact on the planet.
  • And your teachers are the best in the world.

But wait, despite all of this, college does have some good bits. You meet some of your best friends in the world, you form your character, find your community, and create incredible memories.

So what if we can retain and amplify these good parts, and disrupt and reinvent all the obsolete parts?

What would education look like then? We think we have an idea.

Welcome to Mindvalley U

First, you don’t come to this for four years. You come for one month and then you go back into the regular world.

Now about the campus, rather than have a regular campus we take some of the most exciting exhilarating cities in the world. For 2017 it’s Barcelona. Hundreds of students are coming to Barcelona in June to join this new type of education model.

Next, age. It doesn’t matter if you’re 17 of 70. Everyone moves to this city together. Using Airbnb and other tools we make the city our living space. Our playground. The community works together in shared co-working spaces, form their own networking groups, and attend exciting new classes together.

And now about those classes. These are no ordinary trainings and certainly no ordinary teachers. Imagine a faculty that consists of some of the greatest minds in human development. For this upcoming beta project in Barcelona you might take a class from the likes of Neale Donald Walsh, who wrote the best-selling book series Conversations With God which sold 20 million copies. Or learn from Eric Edmeades, who trains people on the art of masterful communication, one of the key skills that will help you to ascend your career. Or study with Wim Hof, who holds over a dozen Guinness records and can teach you how to hone your mind and body to superhuman levels. Or study with some of the world’s top entrepreneurship and personal growth programs. Like Lifebook. Or learn to hack your mind with Marisa Peer, the hypnotherapist who works with A-list celebs and Olympians. Or learn mindfulness from Gelong Thubten, who trained the actors of Doctor Strange on Eastern philosophy.

But it’s more than just classes. Throughout the month, we organize meet-ups, masterminds, networking groups, volunteer opportunities. All to allow the students here to connect and bond and forge great friendships. After all a Harvard study said that the single greatest determinant of your happiness in life “is going to be the strength of your social connections”. With the social opportunities we create, and the fact that you can return every year for the rest of your life to plug-in, grow and re-connect, you’ll never feel lonely again.

You Found Your Tribe

And about that tribe. It’s not just young people. It’s all ages. It’s utter rubbish that we designed a society where we think you’re meant to see the end to college life by 23. On our campus you meet people of ages. Even families attending with their kids. Fathers and sons. Mothers and daughters. Teenagers and people in their fifties and beyond. All connecting, learning and being part of one international tribe. A curated community of people bound together by a desire to grow, to connect and craft epic lives. This is Mindvalley U. And our first city campus is in Barcelona. It’s happening this June 2017. Stop by for a month. Or a week. Or just attend a specific lecture. But know that no matter what you choose you’re participating in an experiment to redefine education. In the past decade we’ve reinvented the phone. The car. The TV. Now it’s time to reinvent how we learn. So you can choose to live an ordinary life. Same city. Same job. Same style of parenting and relationships and daily 9-5 as everyone else. Or you can choose to question everything. Welcome to a new style of education.

Thoughts and Reactions

Yes, college is about meaningful social connections. 

Yes, 4 years is too long to keep young people in a bubble.

Yes, a physical campus is unnecessary. Not only is it unnecessary, it is dangerous. It enables students, faculty, staff, and administration to stay in a bubble, not threatened by the real world. It creates one more barrier to students experiencing the pain and wonder of reality.

Yes, higher education institutions tend to house a relatively homogenous group of students, certainly in terms of age and range of life (in)experience.

Yes, the typical curriculum does not present students with timely skills and competencies they can quickly put to use in their career path.  

Yes, the majority of teachers are untrained. Most doctoral programs prepare researchers, not teachers. Because research is the currency in higher ed, teaching is often seen as a distraction.

One month of “school” out of every 12 months is an interesting proposition. Spending that month immersed in a different amazing city makes it an even more interesting proposition.

But . . . very few people can take a month off from their real lives. Very few people have the financial means to live in Barcelona or Berlin or Singapore for a month. We need to somehow utilize technology to provide the opportunity for anyone to come together, at any time, in real time. A big-shot from New York City. A farmer from a small village in rural Nigeria. A family living on the streets of Beijing. The experience becomes much richer when more “real” people can engage when their curiosity is piqued and/or when their circumstance necessitates it.

Those leading the learning are posited as the “greatest minds in human development”. 

But . . . one significant barrier to students learning is that they don’t see themselves in the teachers. Mindvalley U exacerbates this disconnect. Students will struggle to identify with someone who sold 20 million books, who holds multiple Guiness records, who works with A-list celebs and Olympians. Many people without such success can deliver an equally powerful experience that would be easier for students to identify with.

In trying to reinvent education, we need to focus on the outcome, for the customer. What are students (customers) supposed to be able to do after their experience in higher ed? I firmly believe they should be able to embark upon a career path that is meaningful to them.

They need to identify what would be meaningful work to them. That means they need accurate previews, and short bursts of experience.

They need to develop skills necessary to sell, to build relationships, to create value. They will be selling themselves to potential employers or investors. They need to building relationships with a network to help them open doors and gain experience. They need to create value for some organization in order to carve out a living.

They need freedom to explore and discover, but with some pretty amazing guides who help them frame their experiences.

I am uncertain how to reinvent education, but I know it sorely needs to be reinvented. Mindvalley U is a valiant attempt, but it falls short in some critical areas.

What do you think a reinvented education system looks like?


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