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Stanford President John L. Hennessy shared his insights on continuing education with UNBOUND in an interview that we’ve produced as a series of videos. Hennessy, a computer scientist and entrepreneur who has long been a champion of online learning and educational innovation, has been president of Stanford University since 2000 and has announced plans to step down in the summer of 2016.

View the videos in the Hennessy series here:


Technology and Higher Education

In 2012, President Hennessy described the disruptive changes of technology on education as a “coming tsunami.” Here, he discusses his efforts at Stanford to support innovation in technology-based learning, while acknowledging how much we still need to learn. He encourages ceaseless experimentation where faculty try out new methods and measure the results. Click here for video.

Uniting Learning Science and Technology

Our knowledge of learning science lags behind our knowledge of technology, asserts President Hennessy, largely because learning is such a complex and individualized activity. We need to experiment constantly as we seek to maximize learning through technology. In time, even the most complex subjects may benefit from adaptive technology. Click here for video.

A Place for Online Undergrad Education?

President Hennessy still considers the four-year residential college experience to be the “gold standard” of higher education, largely because of what happens when such diverse groups live and work together. But online education can enhance that experience by giving students more flexibility. Other institutions of higher learning can also benefit greatly from online delivery, especially in efforts to address gaps in preparation and prior learning. Click here for video.

Unbundling the Undergrad Curriculum

President Hennessy acknowledges the value of bundling related skills in certificate programs, which have proven their value for continuing professional education, at times even taking the place of master’s degrees. But he is cautious about expanding that model to the undergraduate curriculum, where he finds a value in the broader education provided by the traditional model. Click here for video.

What have we learned from MOOCs?

Stanford played a crucial role in the development of MOOCs, with faculty involved in start-ups such as Coursera and Udacity. President Hennessy does not think that MOOCs will replace traditional undergraduate education, but he does see them playing an important role in the continuing education of our professional workforce. MOOCs can also reach global markets that are not being served by higher education. Click here for video.

The Open Loop University Concept

The “open loop university” concept originated in a year-long project conducted by the Hasso Plattner Institute of Design at Stanford, which challenged the community to imagine how the university would change by the year 2025. Students would enter the “open loop” at multiple times throughout their professional life, as they seek to gain skills and knowledge. The traditional 4-year undergraduate experience might also be transformed, as students come and go to gain experience beyond the classroom. Click here for video.

Global Continuing Education

There is a worldwide hunger for education that U. S. schools are helping to meet. People in developing countries are eager for practical knowledge that can improve life; by necessity, much of that knowledge transfer depends on online tools. At the same time, an increasing number of companies are dependent upon international collaboration, as people work across national boundaries to launch their products and services. Click here for video.

Entrepreneurship in Higher Education

Stanford University has a long entrepreneurial history, helping to give birth to organizations such as Hewlett-Packard, Google, and Instagram. President Hennessy addresses the complementary roles of industry and universities, with industry identifying critical problems and universities offering disruptive thinking. In addition to being places of invention, universities are also the curators of the past and the ageless questions about what it means to be human. Click here for video.

The Future of Higher Ed in the U.S.

In his concluding comments, President Hennessy discusses the constancy of change in higher education, while also addressing the pressures for such change. Click here for video.