Social innovation and education without walls

Sandro Calvani | 13 giugno 2013


Some of the greatest innovators of our time including Bill Gates (Microsoft), Steve Jobs (Apple) and Marck Zuckerberg (Facebook) have changed the world of business and of the market without having obtained first an academic degree in their education. Some of them attempted to obtain it but then became drop-outs. 

Since, however, all three of their rich foundations for social innovation invest in university research,  I can safely say that in their lives they did not want to challenge the universal postulate that “Education is the most powerful weapon to change the world”.

Nelson Mandela often repeated the same concept, which was however believed and put in practice by many others before him: for example, the founders of the first university in China a thousand years ago, or of the University of Bologna, one of the oldest in Europe, in 1088.

Education, including the university, has been an instrument of social innovation tens of centuries before we discovered other instruments that protect and promote it like democracy and human rights. As proposed by the motto written on the emblem of the University of Bologna, a college education is a mother who feeds her children.

Knowledge management, including in particular in the field of social innovation, can be done through the University too, but today most of it is done in the most creative way outside Universities, and some of it is done by Universities without walls in their outreach programmes. 

Another expression of this revolution are the online courses offered by renowned universities such as Udacity, EDX and Coursera that reach hundreds of millions of students all over the world. In the same line of innovation knowledge enterprises in the developing world, like the Khan Academy, have become a protagonist of online education without a linkage with large universities.

But there is another important driver of innovation in knowledge management: companies and employers have an overriding need of brains with skills and knowledge on innovation, rather than academic diplomas of high rank. They are interested in and they will be more and more focused on the effective intellectual versatility of human genius, not the frame where it is formed. For this reason, we observe a strong increase in global demand for certification of knowledge for mid-career managers.

In practice, they attend courses and advanced training not to acquire new knowledge, but to certify that already have it and that they know how to manage it, transfer it, exploit and apply it effectively as a team, in order to be attractive to new employers and at higher career and responsibility level.




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