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Ed Re-Combinator

To meet the diverse and changing challenges needs of society we need to harness the experiments of millions of education innovators.

Photo of Matthew Fremont
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How can one best design an education system that can adapt to both the diversity of individual needs and the rapidly-changing economic  landscape? Instead of a system that is geared for mass production but is slow to change, we need one that can scale for mass customization across the needs of students at different stages of life while also evolving  rapidly enough to keep pace with the changes that they face. To meet this challenge we need to harness the potential of millions of people who are trying different ideas in education by distilling what they have learned into patterns that can be replicated, refined, recombined and evolved.

For example, Knowmads is one example of a bold experiment in post-secondary education. It is itself an evolution from prior experiments. What have they learned? Which students benefit most from this approach that integrates student-directed learning with projects sponsored by business partners who seek help with real-world problems? Can their successes be replicated and improved upon? How can the approach be scaled effectively while still remaining highly adaptive? Can the approach be combined with others to meet the needs of mid-career students or a business that recognizes the value ongoing education as a means to tap the creative potential of its employees in order to meet the challenges of a changing market?

In order for more students to benefit from this experiment, the  experience that Knowmads has gained needs to be distilled so that others can learn from it and improve upon it. The lessons need to be made available in a way that facilitates refinement and combination with other approaches to meet different and evolving needs.

One element of the solution is an open repository for curriculum, education methodology, and resources that is designed to facilitate experimentation, sharing, and collaboration among a much broader base of educators, students, and communities than current practice. Another key element is a network of educators and community members who are capable of providing tailored instruction, mentoring, and facilitation on terms that are analogous to just-in-time manufacturing: with a lead time of a few days or weeks rather than months or years.

Who is your idea designed for and how does it reimagine higher education to support the needs of tomorrow?

The needs of students are foremost, but the solution requires increasing engagement among educators and the community, which includes business and government institutions.

This idea emerged from:

  • A group brainstorm
  • An OpenIDEO outpost or chapter
  • An individual

What skills, input or guidance from the OpenIDEO community would be most helpful in building out or refining your idea?


What early, lightweight experiment might you try out in your own community to find out if the idea will meet your expectations?

Conduct problem/solution interviews with educators, students, and CEOs of companies that are eager for innovation. Contact Knowmads to find out how they have refined their approach and the challenges they have faced scaling and adapting.

Tell us about your work experience:

I've worked as an early-hire software engineer/architect for several startups, but also have experience as an employee of and consultant to large organizations that struggle with adaptive change. Although I have not worked as an educator, I have often found myself mentoring my colleagues in software design, and, more recently, lean approaches to entrepreneurship.


Join the conversation:

Photo of Andrea Zelenak

Hey Matthew!

Thanks for posting! Knowmads sounds really cool, I just checked out their website. I think experiences like this need to happen in order to connect with different types or people and ideas.

Also, I'm sure you have a lot of great input being a software engineer/architect. I'd love to see your feedback on the rest of the ideas!

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