Imagine studying for a liberal arts degree with no lectures. Instead, students spend most of their time actively learning through seminars, projects and hands-on learning. They move from location to location – a semester in Buenos Aires, the next in London, then Berlin, then Hyderabad in India; Taipei, Taiwan; and Seoul, South Korea. Passive learning is out – active learning is in.
This could be the future of the liberal arts if the Minerva Project gets to export its curriculum to universities worldwide.
The Minerva Project is an online education startup who made news a few years back, offering a web-based college program that promised the prestige of an Ivy League school at a fraction of the cost. In 2012, it joined with KGI, one of the seven Claremont Colleges, to establish the Minerva Schools and offer a four-year undergraduate program as well as a master’s in science graduate program.
Today, its curriculum, dubbed a “rethinking of the liberal arts,” is making waves. Inside Higher Ed reported that in fall 2016, first-year students at Minerva took the Collegiate Learning Assessment (CLA+); a test which measures college students’ performance in analysis and problem solving, scientific and quantitative reasoning, critical reading and evaluation, and critiquing an argument, in addition to writing mechanics and effectiveness.
When they took it eight months later, the university beat all other institutions that administered the test, excelling against senior students.
“They did well, very well,” said Roger Benjamin, President and CEO of the Council for Aid to Education, creator of the CLA+.
The credit behind this success is the curriculum and pedagogical approach at Minerva. Having no lecturers and putting active learning at the forefront, Minerva’s leaders said, means students are active participants. Students have to improve how they think before moving onto specific subject matter.
Each semester builds on the one before throughout the four-year curriculum. Superfluous electives or “hobby” classes are not included. Instead, in Year One, students start with an introduction to the four Cornerstone courses: Formal Analyses (which focuses on thinking critically), Multimodal Communications (for effective communication), Empirical Analyses (how to think creatively), and Complex Systems (how to interact creatively).
Students then progress to choose a major in Year Two from five offered: Arts & Humanities, Business, Computational Sciences, Natural Sciences, and Social Sciences. This is followed by a disciplinary focus in year three when students select a concentration within their major. While this is similar to traditional colleges, Minerva students learn practical knowledge that can be applied across each major field and to emergent categories within them.
In their final year, students complete a self-directed Capstone project. This means they envision, plan and produce – by an integrated application of their skills and interests – something personally-compelling and novel to their field. In addition, they also write an analytical explanation of their Capstone project.
“The goal of Minerva’s curriculum isn’t memorisation or the study of factual information; we study academic content so we can develop fluid and adaptable skills. Content is not an end in itself, but a medium through which we learn to develop our minds,” said Tyler Pincus, Class of 2019.
Lynn Pasquerella, President of the Association of American Colleges and Universities, described the curriculum as one that is “focused on the learning outcomes that we feel are most critical”.
“It’s applicable to all institutions and should be adopted…Their results are impressive.”