So, what qualification did you get?

I just finished a course that shifted my entire perception of life in four intensive weeks. It was all online, included 100 strangers from around the globe and had no grades, tutorials or lectures.

Sounds ludicrous right? Well, all good ideas and startups tend to sound a little crazy until all of a sudden they’re not.

How did you feel about sleeping on a perfect stranger’s couch four years ago? Would you have dared to jump in a random, unmarked car with someone you’d never met and asked them to drive you to work? I’d guess not. And yet here we are, with Airbnb and Uber now part of the fabric of our connected lives.

Enter Seth Godin’s altMBA.

This is a glimpse into the future of education, and I feel lucky to be one of the graduates of its most recent intake. Before I highlight why, let’s go back a few steps.

Why disrupt education?

Seth believes the education system is broken. He spoke about it recently on this podcast, stating:

“Traditional education is hand built, local, completely custom, really expensive and has uneven access… great teachers are in short supply and bureaucracies enforce compliance, rather than learning.”

He goes on to mention that an MBA alone costs up to $250,000 in capital and opportunity cost, is compliance based, and is optimised to make you either an investment banker or a professor at a business school which most people don’t want.

Online education was designed to solve for a lot of this, but it turns out the completion rate of most online courses is 2–3%.

Naturally, Seth set out to solve that problem.

What’s the solution?

The altMBA is a four week, intensive course designed to challenge how you think and make decisions in both a professional and personal context. A course that will give you a significant kick up the proverbial, and extract more value from your brain than you thought possible (hence Kramer). As a classmate of mine put it, “I’ve been given a new operating model for life”.

The course is split into four different time zones (Pacific, Eastern, Central and London) each with between 20–30 people. Each week, you are put into small teams of 4–5 within that time zone and given three assignments to complete. The groups catch up 3 times during that week on ‘Zoom’, which is like Skype, only it works, and use Slack to interact with one another.

Over the four weeks you are required to complete 12 projects (plus 2 cheeky bonus ones), submit 60+ detailed comments (each assignment is peer reviewed) and write 12 reflective scripts (outlining what you learned from the feedback and comments). It’s intense. It’s stressful. But it’s oh, so rewarding.

The course provides a place where hierarchy is non-existent. Everyone is equal and valued in the same way. There are coaches who oversee proceedings and nudge people back on track. Only, it’s not coaching in the way you’d expect. There are no right answers. No As. No Fs. No Ds and no Cs. Asking a coach for help on an assignment won’t result in a list of instructions on how to reach an answer. Instead you’ll be prodded, poked, pushed and encouraged to “dig deeper”, “consider why it matters” and, my personal favourite, “imagine if the opposite were true”.

This is about practical, transferable and inspired learning. It’s about ideation, empathy and purpose. It is nothing like University/College where you’re required to memorise a bunch of facts for an exam that you’ll immediately forget.

And that’s exactly why it’s so powerful (and will give you moments like this).

But what’s the point if you don’t get a certificate?!

In case it wasn’t obvious this course isn’t about a certificate or a formal qualification. In fact, it’s less about the output of your assignments and more about the process you go through to get there. Reading the material for each project and trying to break it down with your working group is half the fun. “Embrace the ambiguity” was a catch cry we all became accustomed to.

There was so much learning and personal development it’s difficult to distill into a short(ish) piece, but here are a few key takeaways:

Change is inevitable. Accept and get comfortable with it.

Change is the only thing guaranteed to happen and yet we as humans are notoriously bad at dealing with it. We hide from change and seek comfort in the status quo, creating a narrative in our head that change is bad and should be avoided. Yet, despite our best efforts we can’t avoid or control the change that confronts us. It’s ever-present and persistent.

The good news is we can control how we react to change. The course opened my eyes to a different way of viewing the world where obstacles are opportunities and constraints are beautiful.

Humans make decision making harder than it needs to be.

We are decision makers. Every last one of us. We make hundreds of decisions every day, and yet, for the most part, we’re not very good at it. We get caught up in ‘ sunk costs ‘ and past decisions, are constantly in a state of analysis paralysis and more often than not listen to that voice in our head, regardless of how rational or irrational it may seem.

But decision making is a skill that can be trained.

By learning that sunk costs are just that, sunk, and therefore irrelevant, we can exercise better judgement. By realising that it’s better to ‘ ship’ something that’s 90% complete, than spend 5 weeks tweaking it, we can avoid decision fatigue. And by realising that the voice in your head is not yours, but a voice of ‘ resistance ‘ trying to lure you back to your comfort zone, we can take the leap and learn to embrace the fear of the unknown.

You really are the average of the five people you interact with most.

The people I met in this course are some of the most intelligent, inspiring and empathetic people I have ever met. Being surrounded by such a community makes you want to be a better person and give back to these people. The best example of this came in the last week of the course. One student offered to pay for another student’s airfare using frequent flyer points so that they could be with their hospitalised brother in ICU on the other side of the country.

Imagine that. A perfect stranger just four weeks prior going out of their way to book a return airfare for their fellow student so that he could be with his brother. This wasn’t an assignment or a project. It wasn’t staged or part of the curriculum. It was bigger than all of that. It was an act of pure empathy and selflessness. These soft skills were the foundation of the course, and this particular student displayed them at a moment’s notice, with no personal gain or benefit. An act of goodwill with no hidden intent.

No certificate or qualification will ever amount to that.

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