Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Why Universities Don't Apply Best Practices for Learning

Doing College Differently: How Minerva's Unconventional Approach Teaches Learning

By Marc Dresner, Senior Editor, IIR

Dr. Stephen Kosslyn and his colleagues at the Keck Graduate Institute’s Minerva Schools have some unconventional ideas about higher education.

Dr. Stephen Kosslyn
When Minerva’s inaugural class of students graduates—they started school in September 2014—they will do so without having attended a single lecture.

That’s because, according to Kosslyn, Minerva’s Dean of Faculty, the conventional teaching model—to broadcast information to students presuming it will be absorbed—doesn’t work.

In fact, Kosslyn, whose credentials include former Director of the Center for Advanced Study in Behavioral Sciences at Stanford and Dean of Social Science at Harvard, respectively, says the actual science of learning really isn’t being applied systematically in education today.

“An enormous amount is known about how learning works, but it isn’t used systematically.”

“An enormous amount is known about how memory works, how learning works, what motivates people, etc., but it isn’t used systematically because it would require completely revamping the way universities work,” said Kosslyn.

“At Minerva, we’re pushing the reset button and starting from scratch.”

Kosslyn says about 90% of the material presented in the traditional classroom is forgotten within three months; instead, Minerva’s approach relies on active engagement.

“Learning is a consequence of being engaged.”

“Learning is actually a consequence of being engaged,” Kosslyn explained.

Among other things, Minerva’s curriculum endeavors to equip students with “habits of mind”—core thinking competencies needed to function effectively in the real world—and “foundational concepts”—knowledge that will support lifelong learning.

“We want to teach people things that will be useful for them after they graduate,” he said.

The idea, Kosslyn emphasized, is not just to prepare students for a vocation, per se, but to enable them to adapt and succeed at jobs that may not even exist yet.

It seems to me that not only would Minerva graduates make attractive job candidates for companies that aspire to be innovative, but Minerva’s approach could be very instructive for organizations interested in fostering a culture of learning.

In this episode of Forward Focus—FEI’s expert interview series—Stephen Kosslyn discusses why universities aren’t using best practices in learning and how Minerva is doing college differently.

Check it out here on FEI's YouTube Channel or watch below!

About Forward Focus
Forward Focus is a special interview series featuring thought leaders and experts at the forefront of innovation.

Forward Focus is brought to you by FEI 2015—the 13th annual Front End of Innovation conference—taking place May 18-20 in Boston.

For more information or to register, please visit

Marc Dresner is IIR USA’s sr. editor and special communication project lead. He is the former executive editor of Research Business Report, a publication for the marketing research and consumer insights industry. He may be reached at Follow him @mdrezz.

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