Don’t Want to Go to College? Maybe Try UnCollege – You’ll be amazed

Mark Twain once said “I have never let school interfere with my education.” and this is the motto of UnCollege, a new movement to redefine what and how we learn. The movement isspearheaded by nineteen year old Dale Stephens and its goal is to create a learning program where students will be ‘self-learners’. In other words, students will not go to classes or get grades (or a diploma for that matter). Instead they will formulate their own study path and setup a series of projects for themselves to complete.

As soon as I read about Dale’s idea I mentally filed it under “…and now for something COMPLETELY different”, but as I thought more about it, there seemed to be something very pure about it. When I was in university I did two self-directed courses in which I practically created a course for myself and taught myself all the materials as well. I consulted with my professor a few times over the course of the semester and then handed in my project (which was like a mini-thesis).  It was a very rewarding process on many levels.

I interviewed UnCollege founder Dale Stephens to learn more about this concept.

Tell us about UnCollege and your motivation to create it?

Dale: I was inspired to create UnCollege because of frustrations with my college experience.  There is a gap between theoretical knowledge and practical application of that knowledge.  My peers know how to function in the classroom but many cannot transfer those skills to the real world.  I founded UnCollege to help people bridge that crevasse and create their own education in the real world.

Is anyone else doing this right now?

Dale: Since creating UnCollege I’ve become aware of several similar initiatives, including and ZTCollege.  I’ve been in contact with both organizations and hope to be able to operate in a mutually beneficial relationship.

How will students judge their progress and results?

Dale: Students will judge their progress in consultation with peers and mentors.  Students will find a fellow student to be an accountability buddy—someone with whom they meet to track the progress of their education and goals.  In this way students experience both sides of an accountability buddy relationship.  Students will also find mentors to provide expert assistance in specialized areas.  Self-evaluation is integral to self-directed learning.  Ultimately students decide for themselves (taking into account the feedback of peers and mentors) whether they have achieved the results they desire.

What type of technology will you use to keep students organized and create a community?

Dale: There is no reason to build a new online community when wonderful networks already exist.  We will be using technologies such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google Groups, Taggers, and Udemy to create an online community of unstudents. More importantly we hope unstudents will utilize these networks to create an educational community in real life.

As we move forward we will be looking at innovative ways to deliver the UnCollege experience and Enter The Group may well be utilized.

Your site says graduation requires completion of 15 projects. Tell us about the choice of projects and what completion means for students.

Dale: The projects listed on the site all come from things that Rebecca, Demetri, and I did as unschoolers ourselves.  We will be developing the full curriculum over the coming months and will be ready to distribute it in September.  What you see on the site currently is sample of the full curriculum.  Projects are designed to inspire passion-based learning.  Students will tailor each project fit their interests and needs.  Upon completion of the UnCollege program students will create CVs that demonstrate what they have learnt from real-world experiences.  It’s oft forgotten that ‘CV’ in Latin means ‘curriculum of life.’

In your opinion, what’s missing from our educational system today?

Dale: Creativity and innovation are absent from the classroom.  Our educational system was designed on an industrial revolution model to train students to work in factories.  Provoking analytical and independent thought was not the primary goal.  Unfortunately the same educational model is largely still in place.  This system means that conformity is valued over deviance.  In a recent IBM poll, creativity was identified as the most value leadership quality among employers.

What do you see as the future of education?

Dale: I believe that education must become personalized.  No pedagogy is one-size-fits all.  I envision education in the future as a combination of different learning environments—from classroom to autodidacticsm to mentorship to the world.  I hope that students will take a proactive approach to education and direct their own learning.   Designing your own education is unconventional yet vital leadership experience.

Thanks Dale. Best of luck!

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Comment by Sal P on February 23, 2011 at 9:38am

Interesting points.Yes I agree I don't think this idea is completely new, it's origins are probably pretty old. As it says "what is old will be new again"!

While it may not be the conventional path - education>degree>corporate job, it may still have some merits, but also big risks which students should be very aware of.

Comment by tom abeles on February 23, 2011 at 6:25am
I remember being in one country where MD's drove taxis because there were no jobs and engineers held down two jobs to support families. The recent problems in the Middle East has pointed out that there are many highly trained college graduates that can not find jobs. And China is building universities almost as fast as power plants. Thus the UnCollege is not an alternative path to university certification or the equivalent for a resume but for those autodidacts whose pursuit of knowledge may be disconnected from their needs to obtain employment or improve their professional skills in order to secure an income. This path has been pursued for years by "independent scholars" or individuals whose passion as such in the form of essayists, novelists etc requires such activities. One must also remember that those who were at the center of the scientific revolution in the 17th century (e.g. Newton) eschewed academics and, often, were independently wealthy or had patrons to support their activities.
Comment by tom abeles on February 23, 2011 at 6:14am

These ideas pop up on a semi-regular basis. The spirit moved students back in the 60's when we had the "free university" movements. In fact, the spirit even moved several conventional universities to create these hubs on their own campuses and several new universities, such as Evergreen in WA embodied these ideas. The spirit, rising, is seen today in elements of the Open Access or Open Education Resources movements where one can play autodidact. For those in developing countries, its more serious which has prompted the Open Education Resource promoters to seek a plan for formally recognizing accomplishments by granting "credit".The University of the People is another of these "free" or low cost alternatives. As uncollege recogninzes, at some point, a person will want a credible 3rd party validation of skills or achievements.


More importantly to followers of this blog, it is important to recognize that knowledge, leaking out of universities, for example, is cheap and easily acquired which means that people pay for value other than the knowledge delivered. The other issue to consider is that knowledge is fungible and transferable across geopolitical boundaries which means that regardless of how advanced knowledge is obtained or demonstrated, in the near future, it will be in surplus and thus heavily discounted in the marketplace. For universities, it is a wakeup call as to how they price their services. Current economic models are not sustainable for marketing an increasingly available commodity.

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