Our Pedagogy

Mastery based curriculum backed by the science of learning designed for a career in solving global challenges.

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What is the value of Education?

Not Knowledge, but application of knowledge

With an internet connection, a phone, even a library card, we can have the world of knowledge at our fingertips. The value of education no longer lies in knowledge, content or curriculum. Instead, we believe the value of education comes from putting this knowledge into a comprehensive framework for the student to most effectively learn & apply it in the real world, complete with support & accountability. Students must master knowledge in order to wield it effectively for making real change in the world. For this reason, the value of education is a curated learning journey to mastery.

The Goal of Our Pedagogy

Our goal at Plato University is twofold - creating positive outcomes for individual students and the world at large. We want students to reach their goals, maximize their potential, and live fulfilling lives. We also want to make meaningful solutions to the global challenges our world faces. So our education is designed to push people to launch new careers solving the world's greatest challenges.

Although we strive to help students secure high paying employment, importantly and counterintuitively, it's not about jobs at all; launching a career solving complex problems requires a far more long-term mindset and a much more thorough training process - you have to be willing to learn for years instead of months. Second, the entire learning journey is much more nuanced than most people think, and what and how you study depends on where you are on this journey. We will articulate this idea in more detail in the sections below.

Overview

At Plato University, students identify a problem they care about in the world and declare it as their mission to solve this problem. In the foundational courses, students gain the ability to theorize solutions to how their chosen problem could be solved and the skills necessary to execute that solution. It follows then that our job at Plato University is to create depth of understanding for specific skills & facilitate mastery of those skills. We curate the most optimal skill pathways for students to engage in deliberate practice to  master skills for application, not just acquiring knowledge. These personalized learning pathways stack the skills, and only those skills, that are needed in order for a student to successfully execute their solution. In order to ensure that these skills have the highest probability of success, Plato University work closely with external influencers of businesses, communities, and organizations that bring perspectives of real world needs, problems, and skill application. Our students engage in Mastery Based Learning where they experience a blended approach, combining the best of independent, self paced learning with active, social learning and live support. Once they master their skills and graduate, they will continuously evaluate whether or not their skills are getting their desired results and solving their chosen problem. If they are not getting the desired results, they realize a new solution and begin new mastery cycles when necessary.

What is the core of your pedagogy?

Mastery-Based Learning

Learning should not be measured by the amount of credits one accrues based on “butt in seat” hours, but rather if a student has mastered the skills necessary to execute on their goals. For this reason, the core of Plato University's pedagogy is Mastery-Based Learning, which is about the following principles:

Progress is measured by the depth of understanding, not necessarily by the number of topics consumed or time spent on each topic. By doing this we can accelerate students’ progress to graduation while assuring the quality and validity of their education.

To understand Mastery-Based Learning, let me illustrate learning the skill of installing a seat for an American car manufacturer vs Toyota.  In America, you would be taught all the steps to install the seat from the beginning. You would then be told to execute on all those steps after learning them in totality. What is the likelihood you would be able to actually remember and do each step effectively enough to pass safety standards? Slim.

In contrast, Toyota would tell you, “these are the seven steps required to install this seat successfully. You don’t have the privilege of learning step 2 until you have demonstrated mastery of step 1. If you master step 1 in a minute, you may begin learning step 2 in a minute. If it takes you an hour, then you can learn step 2 in an hour. And if it takes you a day, then you can learn step 2 tomorrow. It makes no sense for us to teach you subsequent steps if you don’t do the prior ones correctly.” Using this approach you would be able to execute each step with high efficiency, installing the seat correctly every time.

This same approach is how we view skill acquisition, generally. What sense does it make for students to learn more advanced skills if they do not yet grasp the foundational concepts? If we just assess students at the end of their skill acquisition, how can we be sure they can execute them effectively every time and in different contexts? In fields where concepts build on top of each other cumulatively, the complexity and ambiguity compound exponentially if they don't understand each concept fully as they progress. In traditional education, if you didn't understand the material in week 1, it's most likely that you're already in trouble because the compounding complexity will out-pace your ability to catch up. After a while, the deficit becomes insurmountable causing those affected to stop learning altogether. In Mastery-Based Learning, you deal with the complexity linearly -- as they arise and as you encounter them one by one -- which prevents it from compounding.

Phases of Mastery Based- Learning

In our approach to Mastery-Based Learning we balance breadth versus depth. Breadth provides the foundational knowledge that can be transferred between a variety of disciplines and is key to understanding the basis of problems. Depth allows for deep understanding of specific knowledge and skills related to a narrowly focused problems in order to gain mastery.

Phase 1: Explore

The explore phase is focused on introducing students to topics, problems, and perspectives. These experiences provide a breadth of knowledge and are meant to build a foundation for understanding while challenging worldviews and perspectives, exposing students to various industries, problems to be solved, and people in this space.

Phase 2: Engage

Engagement experiences allow for a depth of knowledge. They are focused and allow students to sharpen their understanding of a certain topic, problem, or perspective through an interactive exercise, discussion, or challenge. These experiences help students synthesize what they have learned from their exposure experiences and apply it to a focused challenge or question.

Phase 3: Execute

Students demonstrate real world application of knowledge learned in Phase 1 & 2 through projects which are used to evaluate mastery and build a portfolio. These projects allow them to apply knowledge to real world problems and discover how they can channel their passions and purpose in a meaningful way.

What does this pedagogy look like at Plato University?

A Journey to Mastery

1

Explore & Build Foundations

When one first tries to learn any skill, it initially starts with a process of discovery and exploration. The goal here is to gain a feel for what the skill is like, to build and play and apply without worrying about how it works under the surface. During this time, the learner is developing some important understandings about themselves, how they fit in the world, and what their strengths are for contributing to it.

Key Results of Exploration

  • Learn About Yourself: By exploring new topics you start to discover your strengths, weaknesses, behaviors, & values. This helps open a window to passions and self awareness.

  • Learn How To Learn: Have you ever been taught how to learn, not just what to learn? Exploration gives a chance for learners develop healthy learning habits, resourcefulness, & skills for self directed learning.

  • Learn The Landscape: How can you truly know what you want to do in life if you don't know all that is available to you? Exploration allows you to get your feet wet in multiple topics to find the ones that call to you most.

How Plato University Encourages Exploration

Traditional college does not leave room for exploration. The expectation is that students know what they want to learn immediately. They must commit, in both time and money, to a major without knowing that major is truly what they want to learn. As a result, many end students end up making the wrong choice and find themselves dispassionate about their chosen careers.

Before a student is enrolled in a university, they should have a more clear understanding of who they are, what they are passionate about, and what difference they want to make in the world. This means going through a process of radical self inquiry to start unraveling a students childhood programming while simultaneously introducing them to a variety of topics that may cultivate their passions. A passion is not something that is lost, waiting to be discovered. Rather it is an interest that starts as a spark of curiosity. Then with constant attention and time spent in that interest on a road to mastery, it becomes a passion. When that passion is connected to making positive outcomes for more than just the self, it becomes a purpose.

At Plato University we make all our curriculum & content freely available to the public. Learners can explore ALL our courses BEFORE they commit. Once students can start building interests in particular skillsets or fields, they can apply to Plato University to engage in our specially designed process of turning those passions into purpose. As a result, students are more confident, engaged, and motivated to learn leading to more fulfilling lives and careers after education.

Build the Foundational Skills

We want to prepare students with the ability to adapt to the ever evolving world, job market, and self. So before officially declaring a mission, students will master foundational skills to help students them knowledge that makes them highly effective in the 21st century across any context or problem. Additionally, these skills will be practiced and applied in all the other skills learned at Plato University.

Research suggests that learners who combine a human skills foundation with key hard skills avoid underemployment and job loss due to automation, and in many cases their performance outpaces learners from more occupation-oriented programs. When employers were surveyed, the most important parts of a learner’s education were:

  • Developing students’ critical thinking skills

  • Developing students’ ability to communicate effectively

  • Developing students’ ability to effectively collaborate & work on a team

  • Developing students’ creativity, curiosity and interest in work that is meaningful to them

Critical Thinking

Critical thinking is required now more than ever with the amount of information, decisions, and global problems our world faces today. Critical thinking involves analyzing, evaluating, and knowing when to apply data, knowledge, or a particular skill set. Critical thinking involves fully understanding a problem from each angle, knowing the amount of uncertainty in the situation, and all the factors that could affect the outcomes of making an effective decision.

Skills learned in critical thinking include:

  • Understand, evaluate, and explain information

  • Apply information & knowledge to new contexts

  • Analyze problems effectively

  • Analyze arguments effectively & evaluating infrences

  • Making informed and effective decisions

Communication

It is not enough to think critically and come up with brilliant solutions to problems. One also must be able to communicate the result of that thinking to others and be able to persuade them of its merit, using any and all modes of communication that best fit the situation. Simply stated, if you are unable to communicate your ideas to others you will never be able to work in a team, portray a vision or goals, sell yourself or your creations, or make the impact you wish to have in the world. 

Skills learned in communication include:

  • Acquire the ability to analyze what others communicate both verbally and written

  • Learn the ability to actively listen & have empathy

  • Effectively speak and write clearly

  • Use nonverbal communication effectively

  • Use multiple forms of media to communicate

  • Understand and apply the art of persuasion to communicate idea

Creative Thinking

Critical thinking was the ability to understand, analyze, and evaluate information and knowledge and then know when to correctly apply it. Creative thinking uses these skills as a foundation to synthesize and produce something new or original, often in pursuit of your mission or problem you would like to solve. Creative thinking is a marriage between science and art to create solutions that effectively solve problems while simultaneously enriching the culture. It is the practice of combining or rearranging two or more unlikely things in new and useful ways. Creativity is based on facilitated discovery, generating solutions to problems, and creating something new.

Skills learned in creative thinking include:

  • Problem solving

  • Employing the scientific method

  • Establishing a creative practice

  • Creating products, processes, and services

  • Understand how creative solutions impact others

Collaboration

The human species has evolved to thrive in complex social systems from the age of tribes to entire communities, organizations, and governments. In order to accomplish any goal, one must learn how to effectively interact with others. This is true at the scale of intimate relationships to entire world organizations. Each of these relationships exist within a complex social system where the behavior of interdependent individuals can not be isolated and aggregated to realize the collective behavior. In this relationship, individuals affect the collective and the collective affects the individual.

For these reasons it is crucial for you to see yourself as not just a mere cog in a system but rather as agents whose behaviors and initiatives have the power to influence these systems. Collaboration starts at the world level and drills down to individuals in this system, understanding how to influence both individual members of a system and the system as whole as well. You must learn how to step up as a leader, but also how to effectively be a team member, and how to distinguish between when one is required to reach an agreed upon goal. It is helpful to also gain deep knowledge about yourself and how to relate and navigate this understanding with others.

Skills learned in collaboration include:

  • Understanding complex systems

  • Understanding ourselves, others, and our world

  • Learning how to have intervention in a system: Negotiating, Mediating, and Persuading

  • Working effectively with others

  • Resolving ethical problems and having social consciousness

Character Building

Our fifth foundational skill prepares students for navigating the real world, both in the workplace and their personal and interpersonal lives. The focus is helping to create fully actualized individuals who have practical life skills and cognitive tools for achieving whatever goals they have set for themselves in the future.

Skills learned in character building include:

  • Understand the self through self actualization and living a purposeful life

  • Utilizing life architecture to design the life you want and acquiring life skills

  • Developing character learning outcomes and capacity for life long learning

  • Understand inner workings of the brain and optimize performance

  • Understand how the body works and optimize for energy, health, and longevity

2

Declare a Mission, Not a Major

As Malcolm Knowles pointed out in his theory of Adult Learning, motivation is required for learning and adults are most interested in learning subjects that have immediate relevance to their job or personal life. One of the strongest motivators in life is a search for meaning or purpose.

Dr. Bill Damon defines purpose as “a stable and generalized intention to accomplish something that is at the same time meaningful to the self and consequential for the world beyond the self.”

Purpose = Meaningful to the Self + Consequential to the World

At Plato University we help connect intrinsic passions that student's have explored to grand challenges our world faces. Knowles theory states that Adult learning should be problem-centered rather than content-oriented. By connecting a student's learning to global problems we can create a sense of purpose and create real consequences for their learning. Additionally, these problems require a critical mass of ingenuity, knowledge, and execution that is far beyond any one person to solve. These problems are legacy problems, meaning they will continue to recur as technology and society advances. So continuing to educate people to solve them seems to be the most worthy pursuit for a University.

Missions vs Majors

In this model, students declare missions, global challenges they wish to solve, rather than majors. Missions are created by combining a student's passions, a global challenge, and the skills necessary to achieve that mission.

Passions

We coach students to foster a deeper understanding of the self, one's own interests, talents, aspirations and goals. We then help them understand the career possibilities that exist matching their passions.

Global Challenges

Our initial learning paths will be in the fields most pressing to the world's current challenges: climate change, healthcare, education, poverty, and equality.

Skills

We work with students to create personalized skill trees and learning paths that guide them to learn the skills necessary to start a career in their mission’s field like climate tech, health tech, edtech, ect.

Missions are fundamentally different from majors. At a traditional university, a student may decide to major in biology. That major will help prepare students for working in fields related to biology but may be less applicable to anything outside of biology.  

At Plato University, a student declares a mission and learns whatever skills are necessary to achieve that mission. For example, if their mission was providing clean drinking water for the world, they may learn skills that would be traditionally taught in biology, computer science, business, sociology, and more. This prepares students to actually make real change in the world while simultaneously preparing them for many avenues for work.

Personalized Learning Pathways

A student’s personalized learning pathway is created by stacking skills that guide what the student needs to learn in order to successfully complete their mission. Within the skill tree, Missions are broken down into Skill Sets. Skill Sets are broken down into individual Skill modules. Skills are broken down into easily digestible, skill competencies with activities.

3

Engage in Skill Mastery

After going through the exploratory phase and declaring a mission, a student moves to engaging in mastery of skills. Each new concept must help the learner establish an increasingly more robust and accurate mental representation of the foundational material they explored. Assessments must be used to gauge mastery and students need to be given room to dig into and digest the material on their own. Deliberate practice must be employed to make sure that students are improving their skills, not just acquiring knowledge. This is where Plato University applies the principles of Mastery-based Learning to ensure students fully understand the fundamentals each step of the way.

Self-Paced, Interactive Learning Modules

To develop individual skills in a student's learning pathway, students will engage in self-paced interactive learning modules. Each module is broken down into specific concepts and competencies a student must master to complete that course. These courses are designed to be consumed daily over 30-45 days, with 5-20 mins of learning material each day and an activity, project, or competency assessment.

Mastery Pre-assessment

Students master subjects at different rates and bring diverse levels of prior experience and knowledge to that mastery. We acknowledge that past experience through self-diagnostic tools, or “pre-assessments,” at the beginning of each course for students to measure their knowledge.  If a student demonstrates mastery of this skill, then they will not be required to take the course related to it.

Mastery Progress and Skill Projects

To demonstrate progress to mastering a skill during a course, daily activates are used along the way that culminate in a final portfolio project at the end of the course. Students must complete an activity before engaging in the next chunk of learning. Additionally, high intensity rapid feedback mechanisms such as quizzes or generation prompts are given. No grades are assigned to these, rather they exist to create spaced repetition, recall, and inform the student of their progress towards mastery.

Mastery Assessment

To complete the skill course, students must complete their skill project. Additionally, we employ rigorous assessments that top employers use for industry certification in that skill. These are reviewed by a Mastery Evaluator who is an industry professional or subject matter expert in that specific skill. Students receive a skill badge for completion

Additional Support

One major downfall of recent online education platforms such as MOOC’s are that they have poor retention and graduation rates. Students do not have the support they need to successfully navigate the learning environment. For this reason we equip students with an entire team that is committed to focusing on students at every stage of their learning journey. These people work directly with the students or behind the scenes to ensure the experience with the education, curriculum, and learning resources is maximally utilized for each student.

This support includes:

  • Active Learning Workshops: collaborative group activities, peer instruction, Socratic discussions, debates, task or problem based learning, role playing or games that are both engaging and challenging.

    Flourishing Activates: daily activities on self-discovery, purpose-building, mindfulness, life skills, and other tools to enable self-actualization.

  • Community Online Socials: We organize regular virtual community events with learners and annual gatherings for the entire cohort.

  • Mentor Sessions: Learners will engage in one on one sessions with industry mentors who are experts in the skills they are learning.

  • 1 on 1 Coaching: Learners meet weekly with their coach to set goals, talk through their progress and overcome challenges.

4

Execute Skills in Real Projects

After mastery of skills, the next phase is about applying that knowledge in novel and real world applications. As students engage in self-paced interactive learning on their own time, they will also engage in live cohorts to practice their skills in workshops and group projects aimed at having a real, positive outcome in the world. These projects combine the passions and skills of each of the learners to solve a problem in a real organization, business, or social group.

These projects run over every quarter (12 weeks) and allow students multiple opportunities to demonstrate mastery of skillsets and test out possible solutions for their chosen Missions. The phases of the projects are as follows:

  • Research (2 Weeks)

  • Experiment (4 Weeks)

  • Create (4 Weeks)

  • Portfolio (2 Weeks)

Capstone Project

For students to be evaluated for graduation, students must complete a final capstone project where they will develop plan and thesis about how to solve the global challenge they have been studying. Student’s projects will be assessed on application of all the skills that they have learned. Upon completion, they will receive a Mastery certificate.

5

Graduation & Life Long Mastery

Once their learning is complete, students enter either direct employment tracks to high paying roles in existing startups or entrepreneurship tracks to create new startups putting their skills and solution thesis to the test. The university acts as a professional development agency helping them with placement and career development, guiding students through their entire career long after graduation.

Skill Resumes & Portfolios

As students demonstrate mastery of skills, they earn badges and certificates which are recorded in their profile. Each student’s profile provides snapshots of the whole student in visual data that is detailed and unique to that individual and their abilities. The profile hosts their skill resume, a living record of skills & competencies mastered that employers assess for potential candidates, and their skill portfolio, a collection of projects & experiences directly related to those skills.

With the use of blockchain technology, the skill portfolio can serve as a verifiable personal ledger of educational achievements, skills mastered, and projects completed. Upon completion of each skill module, the learner’s achievement is recorded on the blockchain through a token transaction that also has the data about the achievement. Moreover, this would allow students to input experiences not only acquired while in school, but other experiences outside of school that make them proficient in skills employers are looking for. All of their performance and feedback is made public. It’s like a CV of what you have learned, but it is reliable, secure and public to the extent that you want.

Continuous Life Long Learning

With the rapid change that is occurring in our society, it is hard to expect that our students will always have the skills they need. For this reason, we facilitate lifelong learning for our students through new mastery cycles to ensure their success for a lifetime. A student may complete several cycles over their lifetime depending on the rapid change of the world.

Students may wish to engage in a new mastery cycle for three reasons.

  • Wrong Solution Thesis: As students engage in solving problems, they may realize the solution they came up with does not solve the global challenge. At this point they must identify a new solution, which may require a new set of skills to implement that solution.

  • Outdated Skills: Although we equip students with a broad range of transferable skills, the advancements in technology and the workforce may require a set of skills that do not even exist yet.

  • Passions Change: Students will also change as individuals and reach new milestones in life experiences that may have them wanting to pursue something else than they had originally attended school for.

After graduating from Plato, students continue to access the online platform and use the content and resources it provides. As we teach our students the skills necessary for self driven learning, students will be able to develop their own learning projects as they need to brush up on skills in their career & life. Students also stay connected to their support circles and alumni network. These individuals play an important role in continuing to champion the students’ success long after they have graduated. They provide mentorship and guidance through transitions in life, achieving fulfillment in their lives, and assessing whether their skills are still adequate to address the challenges the student cares about.

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