One Man’s Dream – Higher Ed’s Mission

I think this week we can take a step out of the dry article shares and talk about a very personal story. It’s not mine; it’s one my director shared with me. Meet Ankit Khandelwal, a former chemical engineer from Northern India who, with the help of online education, hopes to become a “Global Manager” within the next 15 years.

Dreams are all well and good—if my former students all achieved what they dreamed of, we would have a ton of basketball players and rock stars—but I’m sharing this with you today because of how he plans to go about this. Having run out funding to continue his education in Denmark, Ankit has decided to go “open source”, identifying the skills needed to excel in his chosen field and utilizing MOOCs and other open educational resources to achieve this goal. He’s not going to pay a dime and, if he pulls it off, he’ll have the same qualifications as any MBA in this world.

Online education is, in many ways, a very American phenomenon. Europeans are, give or take, 10 years behind the US in terms of their implementation of online education so a lot of what he’s talking about is the same buzz we felt with the advent of EdX and Udacity.

While I wish Mr. Khandelwal all the best, I’d like to take a look at the advances in education that are allowing him to move forward and consider how we can incorporate that into our programs. What he’s doing is something I’ve harped on before: Competency Based Education (CBE)


In a lot of ways CBE is a throwback to the classical method of education (before Carnegie Mellon and the Credit Hour System) akin to the original way Oxford was set up, how Aristotle and Socrates taught, or the University of Sankore. Instead of planned out degrees, there were experts who you (as the student) hired to teach you specific skills. You left with an endorsement for your ability to do certain things. We had to get away from this in the early 1900s because, as the number of students increased, we needed a way to keep track of them all and, limited by a proto-industrial era level of technology, creating these categories of A, B, C, D and F was the way to do it. I’m not knocking the system; I’m merely suggesting that technology has finally caught up with demand to the extent that we no longer have to mass-produce our students with cut-and-dried degrees.

Instead of diluting education, online technology has democratized it in the most dramatic way since the GI Bill scholarship program. Finally, thanks to innovations like badging and CBE, we are closer than ever to offering the customized education that used to be considered normal. We shouldn’t be afraid of these innovations because, at their core, they are a return to what education was supposed to be in the first place, an open forum that gives people like Mr. Khandelwal the opportunity to plan his own education and grow his own skills in a way that best aligns with who he wants to be.

My dream for education is an institution where the main question we ask isn’t “what’s your major?” it’s “what do you want to do with your life?”

What you think of his plan? Will it work? What do you like/disagree with? Do you think there are elements we could incorporate in our programs and, if so, how would we go about doing it?

(One Man’s dream- Higher Ed’s Mission by Nate Ackerly, Course Design Cafe, 18.09.2014)


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