We would like to introduce MindGarden to you as the Antidote to Corporate U, a place for the rest of us—not just teachers who love to teach but learners who want to learn for the sake of learning, as an end in itself, rather than as a way to get a credential. We want this to be a place where anyone (qualified by education or experience) can come to teach a course, and where anyone can come to learn, affordably and in any language, and without barriers of any kind. This is for people who are curious: a Garden of the Mind in which to “wander and wonder” with WisdomMaps.
The central idea of WisdomMaps is that all information is inter-related. It’s a bit like chaos theory, which holds that the beating of a butterfly’s wings somewhere over north Africa can give rise to a hurricane in the Caribbean. Admittedly, the connection is obscure, but there is a relationship, and the key to discerning it is to bring more and more information and insight to bear upon it. The purpose of a WisdomMap is to lay out all that information and insight in a visual relational format, so that a learner can look at it and see right away how everything fits together, and how any one thing is related to everything else. What we’re talking about here is the unity of knowledge, and seeing it is the stuff of wisdom.
WisdomMaps convey a vivid and coherent understanding of what information means. It does this by way of a patented “relational ontology”, links in the maps that serve to relate information to other information in terms of shared meaning, shared concepts, and parallels and analogy, and in terms of reasons, means, and effects. This is how WisdomMaps relate information to other information, and build unity of knowledge and meaning. In this way, WisdomMaps can be said to form the beginnings of a new knowledge universe based on meaning–all in all, an extraordinary departure from the rote rigors of linear learning.
Everyone has their own contribution to make to the litany of complaints about higher education. The inability of learners to learn (hardly surprising when people are made to learn what they may have no interest in, rather than what they like). The cost and the hobbling debt. The absence of opportunity in the job market. The inability of employers to find qualified candidates. All that they say about the cost and lost opportunity of higher education is true. But what they may be overlooking is the greatest cost and lost opportunity of all: the insidious and corrosive effect of Corporate Ed upon our ability to think creatively and innovate. It is the birthright of Americans to contest prevailing assumptions and to build a better mouse-trap in the bargain, and the culture of innovation that has resulted has long held the key to the riches and rewards of the American Dream. Our tradition of questioning established truths is hard-wired into our DNA and it energizes the culture and community of higher education.
Now there is a snake loose in this garden of abundance: the serpent of corporatism. Corporate anything is antithetical to the life of the freely inquiring mind, and when Corporate U decrees what learners must learn and how they must be made to learn it, the spirit of curiosity and learning suffers, gasps, and eventually dies (and with it, innovation).
Learners require a learning environment that is conducive to learning. Schools, as we know them today, are less so. Higher education has come to resemble an obstacle course, in which students who conform to the expectations of their betters and who successfully navigate the tedium of required courses, the dispiriting drudgery of assignments, and the ordeal of soaking up the subject and spewing it out for the exams are at last rewarded with a degree that certifies them as the sort that would likely make for a good corporate soldier.
We have a different view of the possibilities.
WisdomMaps is the precursor to our planned MindGarden, which will someday host a new model of learning in which WisdomMaps are employed in a fully-mentored learning environment. In this new model, there are no diplomas and no grades. There are no assignments (there are other ways to get people to think). There are no quizzes or exams (more about rote memorization than eliciting understanding). There is no four-year degree program or any other timetable (learning should be available to the learner for as long as they like, whenever they wish). There are no textbooks. For learners in this new paradigm, there is no pressure, no anxiety, no impoverishment, no fear—nothing to detract from their curiosity and love of learning.
In this model, mentors will be available on-call, on-premises and online, to assist the learner in deriving and interpreting meaning, and in considering relevant perspectives and productive avenues of inquiry. Mentors will continuously assess (through regular discussion with the learner) the learner’s progress, and their assessment will be based not just upon the learner’s mastery of the facts, but on their understanding of the subject and its implications, and on the extent of the learner’s engagement with WisdomMaps and other resources and events in developing that understanding. In lieu of grades, mentors will incorporate their observations into an ongoing Comprehensive Assessment Profile (CAP) of the learner. With the academic credential increasingly debased by grade inflation, we expect that the CAP, by setting forth years of mentor insight into a learner’s capabilities and interests, will prove to be of greater use to employers in evaluating a job candidate than a diploma and a GPA.
We intend for our mentors to hold to the highest standards of teaching acumen and responsiveness to their learners. Regrettably, there will be no tenure, no three months of paid vacation, and no sabbaticals. There will be no teaching assistants to fill in for the mentor’s own responsibilities. Their success would be contingent, as it is for learners, on the extent of their engagement with their own material (in this case, the learner). But for those who excel, there would be more than ample recognition and recompense on offer, since we regard talented and dedicated mentors as the linchpin of learning, and we intend that they be rewarded accordingly, with salary and benefits packages that would fully reflect their status as the prime movers of the learning process.
Learners will always learn best what they find relevant, and with WisdomMaps, learners will find their way around an increasingly wide spectrum of academic disciplines that become relevant to their interests as the learning and discovery process unfolds in its own “random walk” (though the process of association in learning is anything but random). When learners are let loose to “wander and wonder”, and to discover new things in ways that are relevant to their own interests, they’ll see those things differently than if, per the old pedagogy, the unthirsty horse is led to water it doesn’t care to drink. WisdomMaps, with their display of the endless inter-connectedness of knowledge, leads the learner on its sprawling tendrils to chart new territories and draw the connections to their own interests. When information becomes unified in WisdomMaps, it becomes a maze of never-ending discoveries and delights for the curious learner.
We see MindGarden as a community learning center, open to learners of all ages and levels of learning, from pre-school through wise old age, without barriers to admission, and at an affordable cost. The campus would provide study rooms and meeting halls for each academic division, where learners would gather to peruse WisdomMaps and consult with on-call mentors and with other learners. As learners learn from their mentors, they also learn from each other, and MindGarden would host numerous social, cultural, and learning events to encourage learners to build relationships based on common interests, and to teach each other all the best of what they have come to learn.
For now, MindGarden remains our vision of that shining “City on a Hill”, the enduring emblem of the small liberal arts college that once upon a time stood for all that was good and decent about higher education and the humanities that made for a better, wiser, and more compassionate human being. In the meantime, we hope that WisdomMaps will prove useful in expanding the market for higher education, and in enhancing the quality of higher education and choices for learners as well. This is where colleges will come to select courses for their own teachers to teach, much as one checks out a book from a library. Similarly, students will augment their learning by taking such courses as interest them, from whichever colleges offer them, and then transferring the credits for those courses back to their own colleges. As our library of WisdomMaps courses grows (not just history mind maps but maps of all subjects), WisdomMaps will enable learners everywhere to access a broad array of courses, and enable a community college to offer the curriculum of an Ivy League institution.
For many colleges, Eldorado is elsewhere. The biggest and best colleges in the United States are scrambling to come up with ways to deliver online courses to global markets, and to somehow surmount the language barrier and personalize the instruction in attempting to monetize those courses. Given that the global educational market is worth some $3 trillion a year, their enthusiasm is understandable. But developing a successful model for globally-distributed online learning, as their experience to date has shown, has proven to be a daunting and elusive proposition.
We believe that we have answers. Because WisdomMaps will utilize our patented technology to display bilingually in any of the world’s commonly recognized languages, we now have a way to tap the explosive demand in global markets for an American college degree. Bilingual WisdomMaps will enable an American college to offer courses in any subject, in whichever languages its students want, and to earn regular if not premium tuition rates from its foreign enrollment–without the language barrier, and without students being required to come to the United States to study.
In a word, WisdomMaps stands to democratize higher education for learners and teachers everywhere, and enable us to supplant the cynical model of corporate education with the vibrant intellectual creativity and innovation of this new paradigm of learning for the 21st century.