Personal Statements 2016: Opening Ourselves and Our Universities to Be #Alwayslearning

Personal Statements 2016: Opening Ourselves and Our Universities to Be #Alwayslearning


Editor’s Note: ‘Tis the trendy season for trends, to reflect on 2015 and to make bold predictions about what next year may hold. This year, we asked thought leaders to share their outlooks on education, but with a twist. They have to frame their thoughts as a response to some of the finest college application essay prompts—yes, the very same ones that high school seniors are feverishly working on now!

Here’s what Anant Agarwal, CEO of EdX, had to say.

Writing prompt: Hashtags trend worldwide. Give us a hashtag you wish were trending. #______ Why? (Wake Forest University)

While #NationalCookieDay certainly had its appeal, and #VideoMTV2015 kept legions of fans cheering for their favorite artists, I prefer hashtags that relate to bigger ideas—ideas that are timeless and nurturing for both the mind and the soul. I’d love to see #AlwaysLearning encouraging thousands of people to engage in discussions on continuous education and curiosity; spurring everyone to seek out new skills and opportunities or to try something new.

At the edX Global Forum in November, I spoke with Megan Smith, United States Chief Technology Officer in the Office of Science and Technology Policy. She talked about “porous education”—how college campuses in the late 1800s were more open to their surrounding communities. These institutions regularly offered access to learners from beyond the campus walls, inviting participation in lectures and other events. These campuses encouraged people to learn, even if they weren’t enrolled students.

Smith recounted that in one such instance, a community member who worked with deaf students attended a physics lecture at MIT. This man was so intrigued by what he heard that he asked the school’s faculty if he could do some work in their lab, and the school accepted his request . The lab work undertaken by that attendee, a man named Alexander Graham Bell, led to the invention of the telephone.

Megan Smith encouraged universities and educators to take porous education to the next level to help us all keep apace, especially with technology. With lifespans expected to increase to 100 years and beyond, what we learn through age 22 is unlikely to all be current through our lifetimes. Compound that with rapidly evolving technology, which is creating new and radically different opportunities every year, and you have compelling reasons to be #AlwaysLearning.

With the modern communications and social networking tools we have today, colleges can open wide to the surrounding community. However this time, because access is not limited by geographic location, ideas can spread much more quickly and broadly. Porous education can thus enable continuous learning for people from all around the world. Scholarly research and education can travel far and wide, be discussed in forums and crowdsourced for instant feedback.

Resources like this may already exist. The key to their adoption, then, is curiosity—the desire to continually seek out new knowledge. If we all woke up tomorrow to find that #AlwaysLearning was a trending topic, I believe we would see that the desire to learn is everywhere: Dedicated learners all across the globe are clamoring for the next lesson, the next “aha” moment, the next challenge. Hashtag or no hashtag, this remains true. Opportunities to grow intellectually are all around us. All we have to do is rise to the challenge to be #AlwaysLearning.

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