Unis must embrace 'Open-Loop'
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Unis must embrace 'Open-Loop'

Having fixated on an educational model of classroom-based teaching for almost two centuries, educational work is being disrupted by new technologies, modern methods of teaching and learning, and a new age of practical, real-world learning. Universities need new-age approaches that are in tune with changing realities as well as beneficial to students, who often complain about out-of-date education.

Have you ever wondered why superstar entrepreneurs, be it Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Michael Dell, or even Rockefeller never completed college?

One approach that significantly alters the teaching-learning model while providing students with a hands-on approach to dealing with real-life issues is the Open-Loop Learning Model. The concept is simple.

The Open-Loop model enables students to leave the classroom and experience real-world situations before returning to the classroom on their own initiative. During out-of-class time, students can launch or work on their startup, undertake an internship, study abroad, or engage in extracurricular activities. Having taken a break to pursue out-of-class activities and accomplish their objectives, they can return to the classroom and complete the remainder of their degree programme.

This approach is straightforward, practical, and easy to implement, and it can do wonders for a learning process that remains fixated on a four-walled classroom approach that dates back over two centuries.

An example of how the Open-Loop Model works can provide insights into how it will prove immensely beneficial to students and universities alike. Let us say that a student wants to launch a startup that seeks to solve a health-related issue. The student enrols for classes where he or she gains knowledge of the basics of human anatomy, physiology, and existing medical practices. Having acquired this basic knowledge in one year or more, the student now takes leave from the university and moves on to taking the first steps to begin a startup. For the next six months, the student works on designing the outlines of the business. The student is now an entrepreneur-in-the-making. But there is a problem. The student knows biology but lacks finance and marketing skills, so the entrepreneur-in-the-making returns to the classroom and opts to learn accounting, finance, and marketing. Perhaps the student also chooses to learn coding, which could help him or her launch the business. A year later, the student once again returns to work on the startup. Or the student decides to proceed with an internship with a health-related company or even pursue a semester abroad at another university. Once the startup is launched, the entrepreneur returns one last time to the university to graduate.

This to-and-fro approach is flexible and provides exactly what is needed by students. Pioneered by the Stanford School of Design, the Open-Loop learning model enables students to "come and go to gain experience beyond the classroom". At the Chulalongkorn School of Integrated Innovation (ScII), we have embraced this model as we allow students to take leave and proceed to either start their own business, launch a startup, work in an organisation, go on a semester-abroad programme, or go for an internship. In fact, students have the option of completing the four-year undergraduate programme within seven years, and apart from a minimal enrolment retention fee, tuition fees remain the same whether the student completes the degree in four or seven years.

This approach allows students to design their own learning schedule. The Open-Loop model is ideal for students who wish to frontload their academic studies with a practicum they themselves created and modulated. Unlike traditional internships or study-abroad programmes, which are created by the university, under the Open-Loop model, students are fully in charge of their academic and professional paths.

The approach also benefits the universities, which learn from the students' experience and receive feedback about the efficacy and market value of their courses. Further, they remain engaged with the outside world. This also allows successful student entrepreneurs to return to school and continue engagement with their alma mater.

Professor Worsak Kanok-Nukulchai is the Executive Director of the Chulalongkorn School of Integrated Innovation (ScII).

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