We haven’t yet built that technology. But I am hopeful that throwing some machine learning techniques at this problem could actually build an integrated, adaptive learning system where we could finally get something that I think has been the holy grail: building an online education system that really works well for students. All students, not just the stars in the class, but also the students who are struggling with the materials from many different backgrounds.
When do you see that happening?
It’s something a lot of people are working on. Certainly Alphabet has some people looking at it, the university has people looking at it. Companies like Coursera are looking at it. Sal Khan is looking at it.
Why is this so hard? It’s simple: Learning is a very individualized process. We like to think everybody learns a certain way; that’s wrong. People learn different ways, different styles, different approaches, different things work. And what we need to do is build a system that’s far more adaptive than what we’ve done to date.
How does building adaptive learning opportunities fit into your thinking for the new scholars program?
One of the key motivations behind building Knight-Hennessy was we thought there really is a leadership void around the world. When we started thinking about this, it was before our election, before Brexit, and in the middle of, for example, the refugee crisis in Europe and in the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis.
So I started thinking, ‘What does Stanford do?’
We’re trying to pick young people who are both academically qualified but who have also shown some evidence that they have a bigger drive, a bigger vision for what they want to do with their life by being engaged in various kinds of leadership opportunities. And the beginning of a career that might serve not just themselves but a broader public. Our first cohort are majority women, majority nonwhite, and 23% first-generation U.S. citizens.
Is that the future of leadership?
It’s about time, don’t you think? It’s not that a white male can’t lead. I’ve done it. It’s that we all benefit by being exposed to a diverse cohort of people, working in a diverse community. Because if you’re in a leadership position, you’re not leading just people who look like you.
You need to understand the angst of the #MeToo movement. You need to understand lingering issues of racism in this country. You need to understand xenophobia that we have coming out in various places. And it’s important for you to understand that, and be able to empathize with it, lead with it, set a higher standard. I think those are all critical things to building the workforce of tomorrow.