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How a small town in Finland is revolutionizing the way we learn in the next century

This is a story about a bold vision and a movement that will turn the vision into reality. Join the movement!

Two years ago we came up with a big idea. The idea was to pack students, startups, investors and global leaders on a cruise ship and sail across the Baltic Sea on a four day idea acceleration workshop. We would call this the Entrepreneur-SHIP.

Duh - the Entrepreneur-SHIP. How cheesy is that!

Yes - you got it. The Noah's ark for entrepreneurial learning. SLUSH on a cruise boat.

It ended up we never got the actual cruise ship, but we indeed sparked a movement what has now become the *SHIP Startup Festival a student-lead event, taking place in Finland's best kept secret, City of Kotka just one hour east from Helsinki. The third annual *SHIP startup festival will take place in July 2017 in Kotka, Finland celebrating Finland's 100th birthday as well as the Tall Ships Races - symbolically referring to a journey we're about to take to deliver on the promise of Finland being the global leader in education and learning.

The global university system is broken. That is exactly why the City of Kotka will create a disruptive learning ecosystem.

As a result of the *SHIP initiative, an even bigger idea emerged about a year ago. It started by a conversation between myself, the former U.S. ambassador Bruce Oreck, Professor Shai Vyakarnam from Cranfield University Bettany Center for Entreprneurship, City development director Terhi Lindholm and my former classmate from Davidson College, Jacqueline Musiitwa as a synthesis of these three following observations:

  1. Kotka does not have a university.

  2. The global university is broken and disruptions are emerging.

  3. By partnering up and leveraging the digital, The city of Kotka could create a radical new "21st century university model" from a blank slate.

"Kotka not having a university might be your greatest asset! You could build the 21st Century University model, without the institutional burdens and the "lazy professors" (deliberately provocative use of the term) fighting for their jobs. From the scratch. Do what Uber is doing to the Taxi business, you know - disrupt the hell out of the higher educational system. - Bruce Oreck.

Why is the University system like a landphone in a world using smartphones - global experts reflections

We started investigating the topic further, teamed up with an international expert group in order to:

  • benchmark the leading disrputors in the higher education space

  • interview global leaders and students (customers!!!) to learn their views and

  • to create a Minimum Viable Product we could test

Our feasibility study can be downloaded from the slideshare link above. Basically we found an ever increasing number of proof that indeed, there is a need to create a skills based system instead of a qualification based system that better equips us with the skills needed in the 21st century labour markets.

This past week I was invited as a facilitator at an Idea to Innovation camp at Cranfield University. The workshop format stems from a partnership between MIT Sloan School of Management and University of Cambridge Judge Business School (formerly known as the Enterprisers) and has been run over 35 times globally. The week was a fantastic opportunity to discuss our plans and create momentum around our vision. I sat down and recorded some interviews with the my co-facilitators: Neal Hartman from MIT Sloan, Erik Kristiansen from Brains Camp (DK), Bonnie Hacking from University of St.Andrews, Lesley Hetherington a mentor from the Cambridge Judge Business School and Dr. Shai Vyakarnam from Cranfield University. Here's what some of the global experts had to say about our plans:

Neal Hartman points out that communication skills, cultural skills and team building skills will be critical skills in the future. He foresees a future, where University offering will be complemented by workshop and camp based offerings - where "Kotka could become the global benchmark" in reinventing the way we teach and learn in the future.

Shai Vyakarnam argues that University business models are just as vulnerable to disruptions as are giant tech companies to nimble startups. He gives credit to the *SHIP initiative and feels that it could a foundation to build upon the 21st century university model.

Lesley Hetherington loves the fact the City of Kotka has a blank sheet of paper to design learning concepts and credits legacy of Finland as an innovative society.

Erik Kristiansen from Denmark believes that learning by doing methods are vital in equipping future generations with the skills needed in the future labour markets. Erik is a visionary educator with years of experience working closely with Bang & Olofsen innovation development processes.

Bonnie Hacking advices to "just do it" and have an entrepreneurial mindset and believing in the vision.

From vision into action

Year 2016 was a key year for many ways in embedding the foundation for our vision. We finalized the feasibility study, updated our regional economic strategy - where the "21st century university model" is one of six goals (and our spearhead projects) and secured resources to develop and experiment the first prototype in 2017. In conjuncture with our radical learning content thinking, two major investments are lifting up our ambition level regarding the physical environment of our plans:

  • XAMK University of Applied Sciences 40 million euros campus investment scheme in downtown Kotka

  • Kotka Old Port real estate project to rejuvenate an old port area for leisure and commercial use.

On a short term (6-9 months) we plan to do this:

  • We will execute a 2-week prototype learning camp with local companies and students to test our ideas.

  • We will keep building our global and local networks around our initiative to create a true movement

  • We will disseminate our experiment "lessons learned" at the *SHIP 2017 startup festival

As you can see from the image above, we are well underway with the prototype planning! Stay tuned for more updates and do share with people whom You think might want to join the movement as well!

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