Christoph Fahle
February 24, 2012

The Future of Learning, for the Love of Learning: betahaus | Salon #3

Why are universities so slow to adapt to today’s means and methods of learning? How can we initiate radical change from within a system that actively discourages it? Are universities – or even schools – necessary in this day and age?

Why are universities so slow to adapt to today’s means and methods of learning? How can we initiate radical change from within a system that actively discourages it? Are universities – or even schools – necessary in this day and age?

These were some of the many questions raised on the evening of Tuesday February 14, at the third edition of Beta-Salon. The topic: University 2.0 – For the <3 Of Learning. Four speakers, each with a distinct, contrasting position on the matter, set the theme for the evening as featured guests.

The evening began on an animated note, with Dale J. Stephens, founder and leader of the UnCollege movement, suggesting that university, along with any kind of schooling, should be attended at the will of the student. This was followed by introductory statements from the other three featured guests. Anna-Lena Schindl, a physics major at Jacobs University Bremen, and organizer of the university’s first TEDx conference, described how she benefitted from attending a private university with a non-traditional structure. Hannes Klöpper, founder of the academic social-network iversity, explained how social networking is, and should be, the future of what universities commonly use as “online resources”. Finally, Dr. Stephan Breidenbach, founding dean of Humboldt-Viadrina School of Governance, explained how he, as an academic leader, wishes to change the system from within, and presented the Master of Public Policy program as an example of innovation in the structure and content of post-secondary study programs.

These four contrasting positions from four very different backgrounds resulted in some interesting questions – both practical and philosophical – that related back to the central questions of the role of universities in the 21st century, and how they must reinvent themselves in order to remain relevant.

What exactly inspires one to want to learn – is there a universally-innate desire to pursue a certain subject of interest, or does it require a structured environment in which a set method of learning is imposed? Of course, the suggestion of providing students of all ages with the freedom to choose whether or not to enroll in established educational institutions – the UnCollege position, essentially – raised several more questions, such as who would benefit from having such a choice, and whether or not it would worsen existing societal divisions.

The final audience question of the evening came in the form of a proposal: that each of the four guest speakers suggest one way in which they would change universities as institutions of learning. Dale began by suggesting that universities operate on a more temporary basis, offering short-term memberships similar to what one would find at a gym. Anna-Lena, drawing from her own experience at Jacobs University, suggested the elimination of courses in favour of independent study projects at all levels. Hannes suggested an additional resource – TEDx cinemas, in which talks would be regularly broadcast. Dr. Breidenbach finally suggested a change in which grading systems operated; taking into account skills not only tested in coursework, but also general competencies applicable to real life. Universities – he concluded – should ultimately be places in which each individual can reveal and achieve their full potential.

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Cost is a big one here. In regards to total transportation costs, the last mile comprises up to 53% of those - making it the least efficient part of the supply chain. Expectations of free shipping and next day deliveries add up to this.

Due to increasing digitalization and convenience services in every area of people's lives, the smooth and flawless process of getting the delivery to one's doorstep is exceedingly becoming what customers care most about. On top of that, for companies that package being delivered is an extension of their brand. The consumer is basically coming face-to-face with the brand, which makes it the biggest opportunity to heighten customer satisfaction.

If you live in a city and have even slightly observed your urban surroundings you’ve probably witnessed it first hand - urban congestion and crowded cities make it pretty tough to satisfy the growing demand and rising expectations of super quick deliveries. Add unpredictability in transit (like weather conditions), an incorrect address or remote locations, just to name a few, and you can see where this is going.

The worst part is, all those delivery trucks and vans that also produce a fair bit of emissions, are often only half full when they roll out for deliveries. This is mostly due to low drop sizes and stops along the route that are far and few between.

It’s not all hopeless though - Where there is a problem, there are solutions.

Same old, same old - isn’t always all that bad. Sometimes, all that’s needed are some new perspectives! The city of Utrecht, for‌ ‌example, implemented a zero-emissions electric barge nicknamed the “Beer Boat”. 

Since 2010 it’s carrying beer and food to the city’s downtown restaurants by using waterways. Other electric barges in Amsterdam not only deliver but even collect organic waste, which is then turned into biofuel in processing plants! Isn’t that cool?

It becomes clear that cities, logistics, as‌ ‌well‌ ‌as‌ ‌urban‌ ‌planners, are equally part of solving the inefficiency of the last-mile. Tackling this mountain of issues calls for teamwork!

A centralized platform, hub or network for similar companies, could do the trick to fill up the delivery vans & trucks that are barely loaded. Parcels could be distributed more efficiently between different companies and their delivery vehicles.

Like a big pool of parcels from different companies with every single parcel going into that one van with the same route!

Delivery Driver Experience and Smart Delivery Vehicles are also areas with huge potential for improvement and innovation.

Ellie: Two years ago we adopted a new legal structure for Jolocom GmbH according to the purpose model of ownership, manifesting our commitment and dedication to building a self-sovereign organization. That means we can’t take VC funding or sell public shares of the company. 

Volker: Jolocom is a community driven organisation – both in a tech sense but also much further beyond. We’re hugely involved in the DWeb community where we organize and attend events for the decentralized community. Every year we also help organize and attend the DWeb Camp in San Francisco, which brings together all kinds of creatives so this technology of tomorrow is built in a collaborative way.

Next to that on-demand experiences have become firmly embedded into people’s everyday lives - be it a mobile app to book a ride, send flowers to your loved ones or order lunch to your office. It’s all possible and has made premium features like real-time tracking a standard.  The online consumer expects nothing less and certainly doesn’t like to wait.

Making that quick and instant gratification happen is another story though. Groundbreaking ideas and innovations are needed to tackle all these factors. Does your startup have one? 

Then head over to our Future Logistics Challenge! Applications are still open until September 23rd.

Volker: There is this really nice place, called Green Rabbit with salads and baked potatoes where I like to go to. Sometimes I just keep it simple and go to Lidl.

Ellie: I eat a lot in cafe which is here around the corner and I love the Matcha Lattes from Starbucks.

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