An innovative curriculum for 21st century learning

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In the 21st century there is a  tremendous pressure for education to “globalise.” With curriculum design and innovation becoming such an essential part of teaching, how can universities truly globalise a curriculum? Here is an example of a university that has gone beyond the traditional model and offered something different for educators and students by being ambitious with their curriculum.


Ben Nelson, Chairman and CEO, Minerva Project

In this blog Ben Nelson, Chairman and CEO and Stephen M. Kosslyn, Founding Dean share their insights on Minerva’s Curriculum for the 21st Century.

The only measure of Minerva’s success is the success of our students. We have defined “success” not simply as doing well in school, but also as doing well in life after graduating—both professionally and personally. We have

specifically designed Minerva’s curriculum with these goals in mind. In what follows we consider: (a) why we teach what we teach; (b) why we teach the way we teach; and (c) why we use technology in how we teach.

Minerva Project Names Dr. Stephen M. Kosslyn as Founding Dean. (PRNewsFoto/Minerva Project)

Stephen M. Kosslyn, Founding Dean

Why we teach what we teach

We designed the content of our curriculum to solve problems raised by traditional approaches. Students (and their parents) find that the standard university curriculum does not prepare them for life after college. The standard curriculum has three parts: General Education, the major, and electives. General Education is supposed to prepare students for life after college—but often consists of a set of breadth requirements that are neither designed with any particular goal in mind nor are part of a coherent program. The major is typically of no use to students after graduation. (How many economics majors become economists? How many history majors become historians?) And the electives typically are just whatever happens to interest the faculty, with little thought about what is useful for students and are selected by students based solely on their interests as opposed to any broader educational goal.

Minerva has designed its entire curriculum around the goal of imparting “practical knowledge”—knowledge students can use to achieve their goals. Such knowledge focuses on critical thinking, creative thinking, effective communication and effective interaction. We have intentionally created a General Education program during the first year that provides students with a set of cognitive tools that they can use in many and varied situations. For the following years, Minerva has designed a set of Majors and Concentrations that allow students to expand on this knowledge and apply it in more specific and practical contexts. As students progress through the curriculum, they increasingly personalize the curriculum to help them achieve their goals.

Active learning

In a standard “flipped classroom,” homework is done in class (where the teacher and other students are available as resources) and lectures are provided before class. Minerva has a “radical flipped classroom”: We moved both the homework and lectures to before class, and reserve class time for active learning where the information acquired through lectures and homework is actively used. Minimal information transmission takes place in class.

One of the most radical differences between Minerva’s approach to education and that found in nearly every other institution is our approach to assessing student progress. At Minerva, we mirror what we know from the science of learning and the way the world actually operates. First and foremost, the maximal unit of instruction is not the course but the curriculum itself. The curriculum itself provides for the overall intellectual development of the students and creates a coherence in our academic program that is without precedent in higher education.

Minerva students are here to learn not to achieve grades.  A learner mentality results in excellent grades.  A grade mentality results in failure.

Minerva’s use of technology

All classes at Minerva are taught using the Active Learning Forum (ALF). We do this in part because ALF allows us to teach more effectively and helps students to learn more effectively. In particular, our use of active learning allows us to apply the science of learning systematically. The science of learning has documented methods that often can double the amount of learning–but Minerva is the only institution that systematically uses the science of learning in all of its classes. For example, we know that quick feedback is invaluable; we take advantage of this by recording all classes, which allows faculty to score students and give them rapid feedback.

Moreover, assessment data is not only collected from every interaction with every student but it is fed back to professors through a decision support tool. The professors use data about student performance to adjust the way class is conducted given the intellectual development arc of each student, attempting to ensure that they have the best possible chance at achieving ultimate mastery by the end of their Minerva tenure.  This is simply not possible without the ALF.

In short, everything we do at Minerva is focused on a simple goal: to help our students succeed after they graduate, both personally and professionally.

kenn-rossAt EduTECH Asia, Kenn Ross, Managing Director of Minerva Schools, will be joining us and sharing an in-depth case-study on Minerva Schools model that has been lauded as a true disrupter in the education world.

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