Though the majority of my posts will be quite naturally about post-industrial transition, I wanted to record not only the content generated by the study but also how I designed the program itself: the ideas, challenges, limits and successes of the design.
Undoubtedly, the study’s format will change over time - it is a constant evolution and a daily source of learning in itself - but, as I embark for San Francisco and start working full time on this project, I feel it is a good time to write a first posts on the study's design.
I hope to write one such post every three months from now to the end in February 2017, and hope it will be both interesting and useful for others who wish to undertake a similar endeavour.
THE REASONS FOR SELF-DESIGN THE STUDY
When initially planning this study, I first looked at different universities to see if there existed a program covering what I wished to learn. Though many institutions had classes that broached the subject from different venture points, none offered a comprehensive course; not surprising for a field so large and yet to be clearly defined. I chose not to be deterred by this and figured that the way to learn was to create what I see as a “self-designed Masters”. So the first reason for self-design was necessity.
I say “Masters” because having already been to graduate school, I am hoping the knowledge gained will be of that depth and quality. The following is an oversimplified description of how I see the work done at various university levels:
Undergraduate: the introduction to and mastery of mainly theoretical knowledge in a specific field. The knowledge learned is usually universally agreed upon and recognised within the discipline. The questions asked usually have a right answer.
Graduate: A more advanced and specialised understanding of usually a smaller field. Using more complex theoretical knowledge and tools, the teachings focus more on applying the knowledge to real life situations. The questions usually do not have any one answer and debate is encouraged.
Postgraduate: The aim is to generate new knowledge. This requires the most exhaustive understanding of existing knowledge in the field of study and a very narrow focus. One comes up with the questions as well as the answers.
Since there is no agreed upon theory or even definition on post-industrial transition, this discredits an undergraduate approach for this study. And although somewhat of an investigation like post-graduate work, it would be absolute hubris to believe that any form of exhaustive understanding of such a broad topic could be achieved in a mere 9 months, let alone generating new and rigorous knowledge. For these reasons and because my wish is to synthesise pragmatically the knowledge gained so as to use it professionally after the study, I chose to borrow heavily from graduate degrees in designing this year.
If the first reason for creating this study was necessity, the second was curiosity, curiosity to explore an intuition I had of the future of higher education.
Though I have never heard of anyone attempting a self-designed year of study – perhaps for very good reasons as time might show – I am convinced that I am just one of the first few to do so and many will attempt similar endeavours in the future. This intuition seems to me a normal development in the world we find ourselves in.
Over time, the amount of new information generated by humanity seems exponential. Today, we have reached a stage where the pace of change is so fast that most large organisations are continuously playing catch up and it is nearly too fast for most people to digest and act upon in real time. Though hopefully, we learn everyday working and a lot of people are juggling in parallel of their careers some form of training (MOOCS in particular have enabled many to do so), some topics require a full time commitment. I realise how very privileged I am to be able to take several months for myself and study in such a way.
In this world in perpetual evolution, one can no longer study once in a lifetime and be knowledgeable for the rest of their professional careers. We have to learn all through our lives, update our knowledge, skillsets and understanding of the world. We are no longer training people to know but to think. In such a changing world, the greatest value of a university is not so much as a repository of knowledge but more a methodological aid. Not what to learn but how to learn.
My intuition was that other people like myself would and will want to study topics they come across in their careers or personal life but that have not yet been comprehensively structured by institutions. However, to dismiss universities would be a mistake. I believe universities should start offering possibilities for individuals to propose their own content and coach them so as to help these new “students” get the best out of their studies even if the university is not providing the content. This is a new and different way to teach but one that for many reasons is in the interest and the future of all higher educative institutions.
Looking for confirmation of this intuition, I approached several university professionals in Paris and found quickly that my intuition was correct though maybe a little early.
Set to begin in fall 2016, the Centre for Research and Interdisciplinarity (CRI)*, in Paris, has recently created a new and novel diploma focused on student engagement: CREER (CREativity, Entrepreneurship and Research). This very innovative graduate program will be specifically tailored for students and professionals wishing to undergo their own self-designed study projects but also wanting to benefit from the learning and collaborative ecosystem offered within a major university.
The founders of CREER share the same philosophy and intuition as me concerning the future of higher education. My program starting earlier than theirs, a partnership was struck between the CRI and myself to mutually strengthen both endeavours. In exchange for pedagogical supervision and mentoring - given by Dr. Vincent Dahirel - I will join the Programme’s Pedagogical Team as an External Pilot Consultant and help enrich the design and implementation of this new diploma.
To come up with the format to my own course, I have had to think about how graduate programs – and to a lesser extent post-graduate studies - are put together and this in itself has been a very rewarding enterprise. I would recommend to any student embarking on a Master’s degree to take time and think about why their program was constructed in the way it was, about the purpose of each class and also all the structure put around classes (time frames, holidays, physical spaces, extracurricular activities, student organisations, etc.) and what they bring to the educative undertaking. This would undoubtedly make for a much richer experience.
The following are some of the questions I asked myself and the answers I came up with, when designing this study.
HOW TO DEFINE SUCCESS
The first aspect of the study I needed to work out was defining what failure and success would constitute.
In a regular degree, this objective – the pass grade if you wish – is defined by the institution. It is set externally to the student. However, in my case I had to define my own measure of success. This is not an easy matter because the evaluation criteria are the same as the evaluated materials: my own thought process.
There are three types of knowledge: what I know, what I know I don’t know and what I don’t know I don’t know. Unfortunately, in self-designing you cannot include the last category which is probably huge in my case and the most interesting because the most foreign.
It took me the better part of a Summer to come to terms with the idea, but the solution I finally came up with was to simply trust in my own sense of personal demand. I concluded that the study would be a success if I came out of it knowing more than going in. This is the best I could do.
This may sound like a cop out but depending on one’s sense of self, this can be the hardest and most difficult level to achieve: self-satisfaction. This in turn creates two issues.
The first is that one needs a clear understanding of the initial state of knowledge to objectively compare with what one knows at the end of the study. For the last few months, I have kept a journal and tried to keep a record of my ideas. Ideas are always evolving and one of the first things I need to do at the study’s start, is synthesise what I know and believe at this point in time. This is the control. So if this is my first article, my second will be a synthetic premise of knowledge with which I set off on this study: The knowledge I wish to confirm, invalidate or simply deepen.
This is less trivial than it appears because it goes against all my past experience in education. To do this properly, I need to be as honest as possible and admit my ignorance. I cannot hide behind half-understood buzzwords or concepts I do not fully comprehend. In my experience, when evaluation is external, one must maximise knowledge as much as the appearance of knowledge. As a student, your professors test your knowledge and you try to answer that challenge by knowing or very often pretending to know convincingly. In this case, that would lead to disaster as I would only be lying to myself. It is difficult to start off any endeavour by having to focus on what one does not know, on one’s limits. It is a vital part for the success of the study but one that is psychologically taxing.
Furthermore, because I will not receive any externally recognised proof of achievement at the end of the study, aka a diploma, I need to convince others of the value of what I am doing: employers at the end of the study surely, but also potential experts to interview as of now. A harder “sell” when one admits to be ignorant.
The advantage of this though is that it is probably the healthiest and more mature attitude I have had to studies in my life. It really forces me to know that I will only get out of this what I put in. Nobody will challenge me or demand anything from me. When cocooned in a great institution, it is sometimes easy to let oneself be carried by the system, trusting that it will lead you to success. In this case, there is no system to rest upon. As in life, you are your own jury. Being good enough for oneself is the true measure of success.
The second issue that comes from this definition of success is that knowledge cannot be the way to define the study’s perimeter. In other educational endeavours, your mastery of concepts, skills or acquisition of predefined knowledge is what is used to define the content of a study. When all is mastered to a satisfactory degree, you graduate. The knowledge I do not possess and the things I do not know are infinite, so by using this method, so would be the study. The way I chose to limit the study was to use time. I am giving myself nine months to gain as much knowledge as I can.
So to recap, my year will be a success if in nine months I feel I have gained more knowledge and invested myself in this study in a way that is personally satisfactory and in line with my personal demands of myself. This may appear at fist flimsy but I believe there is no harder jury than oneself because it is a jury you cannot win over with charm, luck or lies; no jury will ever know you better.
OUTPUTS OF THE YEAR
This leads me to define the various outputs I wish to have during this year. They are both chosen to help me structure my thoughts and also capture the knowledge gained incrementally to help the final synthesis work. They are as follows
- A glossary of terms and concepts.
- A series of longer articles on my understanding of key topics and theories for the study as well as four articles on the methodology applied for this study (this being the first article in this series)
- A final synthesis of the findings from my study: This will likely be more in the form of an essay, since I will not have the time to acquire the academic exhaustivity of knowledge required for objective academic papers
- Following my will to be pragmatic and professionally focused in my study, I hope to be able to propose at the end of the study, the beginning of post-industrial evaluation tools to be used in organisations to help with their transition (see video premise)
HOW TO ORGANISE TIME
I have decided to structure the nine months in three trimesters. Each trimester focusing on a different geography: the first America, the second Europe and Africa and the third Asia.
Pedagogy is repetition and so this gives me three opportunities to understand what I wish to learn. It also gives me the added wealth of exploring the same topics in culturally different environments which can only enrich my understanding of the concepts. Moreover, because the focus of my study is huge and my time is limited, the iterative process gives me the opportunity to refine my focus and turn what-I-do-not-know-I-do-not-know into I-know-that-I-do-not-know and then hopefully into the I-know.
Theoretically, I have decided that each trimester would be subdivided into two parts:
- Because my study deals mainly with the first world, the first month to month-in-a-half will be spent interviewing experts in various fields in first world countries.
- The rest of the trimester will be spent in a developing country – in part for financial reasons in regards to living costs – but also to interview local experts on the impact of this transition on their society. This time will also be spent on synthesising the knowledge gained in the first half of the trimester and preparing interviews for the following trimester.
This is theoretical because already, I have decided to change this for the first trimester. At this stage I am unable to interview anyone pertinently. The interviews should be a way to challenge my assumptions and refute them or strengthen them by an expert’s knowledge. I first need to give my assumptions some depth. So this first month will be spent reading up on topics I know I do not know and defining terms in a glossary I will enrich over the length of the study.
The third trimester will undoubtedly be different to the theoretical structure as well since I will hopefully, at the end, try to synthesise my findings.
On a shorter time frame, I have yet to structure successfully my weeks and days. I have just finished another routine which I found to successfully cycle across New Zealand over the last two-months. However, I have yet to find the right balance between, research, writing, logistics and the rest. It is an interesting challenge while living nomadically. Global nomadic work seems to be another interesting trend which this study will allow me to experience, though I recognise that achieving a routine in an ever-changing environment will be a challenge.
HOW TO USE SPACE TO ONE’S ADVANTAGE
Not being enrolled at a university does have disadvantages but also offers opportunities.
The most apparent drawbacks for me at this point are:
- The lack of access to academic research material, though I am hoping that a partnership can be struck with La Sorbonne in Paris through one of my supervisors.
- The lack of a recognised diploma, though the partnership with the CRI described here above and the final synthesis, will offer I hope, some recognition for my work. As I explained above, this is also the only way to study this topic it seems. I am hoping that the publications and the initiative will be enough to be enough.
- The lack of a fixed place to work from, though as I explained, this enables me to learn to live nomadically which should be a useful skill to have in the future.
- The lack of classmates. I will describe how I intend to solve that issue in the next section.
However, two opportunities outweigh hugely these initial drawbacks in my mind:
- Chose my own “professors” by interviewing experts both academics and practitioners, when it makes sense in accordance with my thought process and have them interact in their own cultural environment.
- No fees! At the end of the year will publish my financials to give an idea of costs but I suspect that even with all the travelling, the study will end up costing much less than a year living and studying in a first world country.
An important part of any study is peer discussion. To exchange ideas with others at a similar stage of learning can be very useful. Theses dialogues offer a chance to learn from others and also be a teacher yourself which is the best way to verify if the knowledge is well understood.
The solution I have found to address this important issue is to create a virtual classroom on this website. Not only will this help me to dabble in community management, a useful tool today, but mostly without peer discussion I know this whole study will be much harder to achieve.
For now, the community is mainly made up of friends and former colleagues but in September – by which stage I hope to have found my pace in both writing and learning – I am hoping both the CREER and the new Ethires Graduate classes (see Supervisors page) will be able to interact with me. Over the summer I am hoping to discuss with both my supervisors the best way to create a meaningful and useful exchange for both sides.
This point I suspect will evolve much over the study, or at least in the initial phases. There are many ways to go about studying such a large topic as post-industrial transition.
The topic is actually so large and nearly infinite because systemic, that I believe a fully exhaustive approach, such as in a PhD for example, would be a mistake. That is not to say that research is not useful. As I mentioned previously, I am spending a whole month doing only that to start. However, I have decided to approach the issue differently.
What I am really looking for is what are the current drivers of society which should in turn, lead to societal changes in all fields; in other words, what does our society need today.
To find those I will try to use a trends and forecasting methodology.
Initially, I want to examine individual societal subsectors (such as business modelling, education, governance) and see what trends are there. From these trends, I hope to find commonalities which should be the deep drivers of our society. That will be my hypothesis, which I will in turn should provide forecasting in each subsector. The reality of these forecasts should be a way to verify if the hypothesis is accurate.
For example, let’s say I find that companies seem to be organising themselves in ways to use less resources (an illustration could be companies co-investing in co-working spaces instead of owning their own office buildings). In parallel, I find that business models are evolving towards reduced production as a source of profit and growth. I could decide that from these trends, better management of resources is a main driver for the post-industrial society. To verify this hypothesis, I could try to imagine what that would imply in the fields of education or public governance. If I find proof of this in those fields, then that would strengthen the hypothesis.
This methodology does not guarantee exhaustivity or undeniable proof (but I do not believe that exists in social sciences), but hopefully if I find a group of coherent drivers, that could constitute a satisfactory answer to my study on describing post-industrial transition.
SUPERVISION & MOTIVATION
If I am honest with myself the two main risks I see in this undertaking are the quite real possibility of losing myself in such a large topic and the double challenge of self-motivation: the difficulty of starting and the difficulty of sustaining the effort on such a long period.
To address the first one, I went out and found two pretty amazing people to be my supervisors. Sebastien will focus more on content and Vincent on methodology. By scheduling calls every two weeks, I am hoping that their external perspective will help me keep on point.
As for motivation, the routine of those calls and more generally, the daily work routine I am trying to instil at the moment as well as the trimester structure, should allow me to sustain the effort quite nicely for the nine months of study. I still have not decided if I will take holidays or not. As I am just starting out, I take it as a good sign that I am not thinking of holidays and rest yet.
The main challenge I face today is getting started. The challenge is not because of a lack of interest but because of the size of the journey ahead. Any large project is the same, it seems insurmountable at first but one needs to start chipping away at it and gradually it will seem more manageable.
I started with small things such as updating my LinkedIn profile and the website, and writing this article. Gradually, I am hoping things will fall into place.
There are still many topics I could address on the structuring of this year: such as research, finding the experts to interview, getting them to meet, interviewing them, etc. Some of these, I feel confident about because I have already done similar things in the past, some will be new and I will face a steep learning curve. However, I feel this article is already quite long and it will be more interesting to write about these issues after having gone through a trimester.
All in all, what I knew and am confirming daily is that this study is teaching much not only in content but simply by having to design and do it. It allows me to use tools I have learned in the past (project management, training design, etc.) and learn new tricks (nomadism, community management, etc.). I have yet to start on the content and already I feel I have learned a lot which bodes well for the whole nine months.
*The Centre for Research and Interdisciplinarity (Centre de Recherches Interdisciplinaires – CRI) was founded in 2005 in Paris. It is an innovative higher education institute providing various undergraduate, graduate and post-graduate diplomas at the crossroads of multiple traditional disciplines. The CRI’s main role is to promote new educational techniques and strategies to empower student initiative and the development of their own research projects. Mentors, research institutions, private companies, and foundations provide the support for the student-created research projects and activities.