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Six Educational Pillars

The Minerva educational philosophy is driven by its mission: To nurture critical wisdom for the sake of the world. Critical wisdom is the result of deep learning that engages both intellectual skills and practical judgment when one is confronted with complex challenges. It is an applied understanding that enables one to know when to stay on a proven path and when to venture into unknown terrain. The analytical lens is balanced with an understanding of the need for creativity and collaboration. In a world where information is freely available, Minerva’s focus is on promoting a deep understanding of ideas and methodologies, rather than memorization of facts or rote application of techniques. This approach allows students to use systems of thinking to work through challenging problems that have no single correct answer and to propose creative solutions that they can explain and justify. Minerva nurtures critical wisdom in students through the synthesis of the six pillars described below. Students who cultivate critical wisdom in themselves and in others will be among those leaders and innovators who bring the change that the world needs most.

I. Fully Active Learning

Scientific research on learning and memory have repeatedly demonstrated that active processing of information, rather than passive listening and memorization, results in a deeper and more lasting understanding of ideas. Tasks such as making distinctions, searching for patterns, and generating examples prompt students to apply knowledge in ways that lead to improved retention and the ability to generalize beyond the context in which the knowledge was acquired. Likewise, active engagement in intentionally structured learning activities prompts students to connect new information to what they already know, allowing for easier retrieval and a more holistic and comprehensive understanding of knowledge domains. For active learning to be fully active, all students must be engaged in these processes throughout a class session and in the work they do outside of class time. Active learning is most effective when students focus on processing knowledge and applying skills in practical ways that approximate real-world tasks, such as focused problem-solving, debate and negotiation, project and research design, or group collaboration. 

II. Informed Agency

To make intelligent choices about one’s intellectual path, it is necessary to be exposed to a wide variety of knowledge and skills — as well as the problem domains in which they are applied — in a systematic and coherent fashion. Moreover, in the web of knowledge, some information is accessible and intelligible only when one has attained a firm grasp of the information’s precursors. One of the biggest challenges in traditional education is that students are exposed unsystematically to quite different information at varying levels of difficulty. To prepare students to engage effectively in disciplinary studies, it is critical to expose them to foundational skills and knowledge in a highly intentional and structured manner. Likewise, students should draw on broad exposure to academic disciplines and professional fields when making educational and professional decisions that will have a deep impact on their futures. 

III. Outcomes-based Assessment

When evaluating student mastery of skills and concepts, it is critical to provide frequent, low-stakes formative feedback as well as periodic summative assessments of their progress at specific points in time. Students can demonstrate their knowledge most effectively when assessments require realistic applications of skills and concepts in substantial projects and assignments, rather than contrived exams that reward memorization. Assessment of student knowledge, both inside and outside of class, should evaluate the specific learning outcomes around which the curriculum has been designed. Likewise, when curriculum is structured on the basis of clearly articulated objectives, unnecessary material is avoided and students are clearly informed of the purpose and goals of their learning.

IV. Systematic Interdisciplinarity

The ongoing advancement of disciplinary research is one of the hallmarks of success in traditional higher education. Yet as the state of human knowledge continues to evolve, it has become increasingly interdisciplinary, with both academics and professionals drawing on multiple domains of knowledge in their work. Bioinformatics, behavioral economics, and computational neuroscience are a few examples among many of interdisciplinary fields of study that will help drive the future of innovation and change. Students need not only be exposed to multiple domains of knowledge, they must understand the interconnections among them, and how the techniques and concepts from one discipline can be utilized synergistically in another.

V. Practical Application

The ultimate value of knowledge lies in its appropriate application. While theories play a crucial role in unifying the principles and concepts that constitute a particular area of knowledge, students only begin to comprehend the relevance and nuance of what they have learned when they attempt to put it into practice. This means that class instruction as well as homework assignments and major class projects must give students opportunities to apply their knowledge to concrete problems that approximate real world challenges. This provides students with a basis for practicing their skills and knowledge beyond academic contexts, such as in an internship at a company or in a research laboratory. Students need opportunities to experience how their learning makes contact with the activities and functions of life outside the classroom, and such opportunities both deepen their comprehension and lead to clearer understanding of where further effort is required to expand their knowledge.

VI. Knowledge Transfer

The ability to effectively utilize the skills and knowledge that are required for a particular task is the essence of expertise and the true measure of understanding. Applying knowledge in a complex and ever evolving world, however, requires the ability to recognize how methods and concepts that were acquired and practiced in a specific context may be applied and combined in creative and surprising ways. Traditional courses of study do not draw sufficient attention to transferable skills, nor do they provide support for students to recontextualize their knowledge systematically. A scaffolded curricular approach introduces general purpose concepts and skills intentionally and offers structured opportunities to apply them and receive feedback. Prompting students to transfer their learning across a wide variety of domains as part of this scaffolding is the best way to ensure that they will continue to use their knowledge effectively once classes have ended. Knowing how to employ their understanding adaptively will allow students to confront new and ever increasing challenges, and to discover the possibilities that will drive the future of progress and innovation.

Educational Pillars

I. Fully Active Learning

II. Informed Agency

III. Outcomes-based Assessment

IV. Systematic Interdisciplinarity

V. Practical Application

VI. Knowledge Transfer