Liberal Arts in the 21st Century: Tom Gardner at TEDxBrownUniversity

thank you it's a it's a pleasure to be here I do have to share one point of bitterness that I had while I was on campus at Brown from the years of 1987 to 1990 and that is that in each yearbook do I believe to early onset hair loss I was featured photographically as a member of each class as I went through as a freshman I was considered a senior but now I I execute a simple cover-up the Motley Fool is an organization that aspires to teach the world about a subject that gets really no coverage at high school or at universities and what we've been engaged in for the last 20 years is mostly teaching and learning together with our community we have about 7 million people that come into our service each month and we have about 270 employees in our organization and so it's very difficult to think how to organize such huge masses of people and really help them accelerate their learning on a subject that in many cases scares them that's obscure to them and and that has helped frame my thinking about creating learning environments in the 21st century and I wanted to share just three of my ideas for how to enhance learning using technology but it's not all about technology it's often just what we're learning about how we learn and putting people in position to excel as a learner now I dedicate my talk today to the former head of the history department at Brown University professor Tom Gleeson and dr. Gleason wrote an outstanding essay in the brown quarterly years ago you may have seen it about the onset of Parkinson's disease and how it affected his view of what learning is all about and some of the principles I share today were very much affected by that essay and are very much alive in our organization today so the first thing I would push any great liberal arts education any great liberal arts university and really The Motley Fool if you think about is we're kind of like the poster child of liberal arts education I mean who would have thought to combine finance technology Shakespeare and humor into one place going out into the world of finance and calling yourself a fool is a little bit like well if you were to head to a surgical center and you heard that it was called butterfingers how great would you feel about that but one thing I learned at Brown is is the importance of thinking differently and in certain situations truly approaching things from a countercultural perspective and to call yourself a fool in the world of finance feels very very good to me because it's not an industry that I particularly admire so as I look out across how we're trying to teach everyone the first principle that I would advance to a great university is the idea of what is known as mass customization how to meet a huge number of people and yet still see the individual we had as a speaker at the Motley Fool a few years ago a man named Tom Peters a wonderful writer on business theory and management and Tom shared his philosophy that once an organization gets to more than 250 people it becomes incredibly difficult to see the individual and that was right at a time when we were just hiring our two hundred and fiftieth person and so we began to talk about it how are we going to make sure this doesn't happen to us and when I look at the average liberal arts university it has many more than 250 people involved in it and to be a great organization it needs to learn to truly see the individual and that takes a deliberate effort it doesn't simply happen and so what I would advance that we've been working on at the Motley Fool is to truly create a profile of everyone who's in that organization and to make that profile as public as the person chooses to have it but have that individual very involved in creating that profile so if I were a university like my beloved alma mater Brown I would be talking to a freshman as they came in and tried to identify with them out of the gate just a few of their ideas will be refining this over the next four years or six or seven or eight years depending on how long the student will be with us but we'll be refining that view of what their strengths are what their weaknesses are what areas of themselves they want to improve what look like they can't be improved we all have weaknesses that are permanent flaws and that's just the learning that and getting ourselves on that journey of self-discovery will enhance every experience that we have in the learning process and I think that when a professor or when I am giving a talk I would like to know something about every student in that classroom so that I can put them in position to succeed there was a a Gallup study completed last year on happiness and engagement in the workplace and and to me these numbers I think should be surprising disappointing even depressing to you and I think that it actually begins early on in trying to help an individual find their purpose so here are the numbers 72% of people survey there's more than 5 million workers around the world survey 72% claim that they are either disengaged or actively disengaged from their work 72% and more than half of your waking hour waking hours in your life will be spent at work 72% or disengaged or actively just downright unhappy about their workplace and here's here's a pretty concerning additional statistic the group that is at the highest level of disengagement at the highest level are those with degrees in higher education why is that because we're developing so much talent at a great university like this and we need to help that individual see their purpose more clearly and navigate their way through organizations and and the problem is that most organizations don't really work to see that individual and I think we need to demonstrate that right at the beginning of the freshman year and through their four years at Brown University and beyond and on every college campus so to me mass customization the technology allows for it's easy to build a profile who's building profiles out there well let's take Google and Facebook they're building a lot of profiles about us the former CEO of Google Eric Schmidt said he believes that to a pretty high degree of accuracy he can predict where you are and what you're thinking at any point in time now that's that's pretty damn disturbing to me right I'm thinking about bridge-building zombies floating down the Nile I'd like to see him predict that but but those those profiles are being built to advertise at us and we can debate the merits of that but but those profiles should exist in a learning atmosphere so that we can get to know each other that's my first recommendation my second call to action for a great university is to put the student in a position to teach so much evidence now showing that when we own the material that we're learning and when we're put in a position where we have to teach it and articulate that knowledge we learn it at an accelerated rate and I would if I could wave my magic wand and create a revolution on on Brown campus right now among students for this year I would I would begin to push I would require for graduation from from this and other universities that you that you are a leader in at least one group independent study project that you are a creator of one student initiated course and of course professor professors are involved in that course in helping you to navigate it they're kind of the armchair quarterback of that creation but once you actually are put in a position where you have to teach others that's a multiplier on learning when instead you're passively sitting in an audience you learn what I believe you learn at a a fractional level of learning and and of course we put ourselves in so many environments now where you're passive and I'm active you're sitting and I'm standing I don't know if you saw the New York Times article today that shows that fifty to seventy percent of our adult life is spent seated 50 to 70 percent it's difficult to learn actively when you're seated it's also unhealthy the article and The Times went on to say that those of us who are seated for more than six hours a day have two times greater likelihood of diabetes two-and-a-half times greater likelihood of cardiovascular cardiovascular disease and we'll shave five years off the end of our lives we don't want to put 18 to 22 year olds in seats throughout the day we want to get them up out of there it's actively learning we want to put them in a position to teach to own the material they're learning and to end to reach out externally outside of the university to have external mentors and to be forced if you're in a Shakespearean class with six plays you should be forced to be getting in touch with Shakespearean actors directors and scholars outside of the university so that active learning that active learning is a multiplier it accelerates and deepens the knowledge that you gain from any experience that you're in my third and final point I believe in rapid curriculum evolution RCE is a term I just created I'm effectively trademarking trademarking it right now and I would be willing to license it to anyone at any time for nothing the world is changing as we know it's changing more rapidly than ever before and our curriculums need to evolve if we're going to push our students to be discoverers to embrace ambiguity to use their liberal arts education to connect many different disciplines and many different people with many different people from different walks of lives of life we need to adapt our curriculum more rapidly as well when I was at Brown an English major focusing creative writing the Canon was a little bit tedious I don't know about you but I did not want to read Beowulf a fourth time I and Grendel was a pile-on and and I remember when I read Sandra Cisneros his book the house on mango street and the effect that it had on me and the world that it opened up for me when I had been forced into a pretty traditional Western Canon up until that point so our curriculum is always evolving and I believe I'm gonna advocate for something that maybe it may seem self-serving but actually it could undermine everything we do with the Motley Fool I believe that every university should require a basic finance course for graduation capital moves through our lives in so many ways throughout history so many great lessons to be learned and today 60 percent of all households 60% of all households where the primary breadwinner is retiring 60% will rely primarily on Social Security which is $1,200 a month so we're setting ourselves up for disaster by not educating giving the basic tools to understand the decisions that people are making in their lives and also to understand the organizations that they might work for or choose not to work for so to demonstrate how far we are from financial literacy I wanted to tell one closing story I'll just give you our basic Motley Fool three-step approach that if every graduating a senior from every University in the country just do these three things that could be taught in a single class period could've been taught in seventh grade you pay down your credit cards at the end of every month save 10% of your salary and buy low costs index funds just add to them over time don't worry about where the market is from one day or week or month to the next there's a whole industry that's built up around making you think that if you don't cover your finances every single day you're gonna fall behind CNBC is telling us where the markets going to today and why and what the new and economic mountain was and your broker is trying to push you to make changes because that broker gets paid based on every new transaction that you make but really what you should be doing is just setting up a long runway of savings and simple investing into index funds and this leads me to the closing story and that is that our favorite day of the year at the Motley Fool naturally as it should be is April 1st there are no other organizations that fight to make April 1st their holiday but we do every year and every year what we do is we essentially close down our site and we attempt to amuse our audience by pranking them and doing so in a way that hopefully will educate them and years ago we shut down our website and we admitted to a terrible mistake we wrote our letter of apology which simply began today we come with hat in hand to apologize to you for the last five to seven years we've been telling you that the average mutual fund is not a good investment there are more mutual funds than there are stocks today the reason that that's true is because the mutual fund industry makes so much money on creating new funds and misleading people into buying them but most funds are overpriced and underperforming a c-grade in providing an excellent solution to individuals or so we thought we've come to you and told you that these thousands of mutual funds just ignore them and by this simple solution fund that buys all public companies in the US and just gets you the average rate of return basically for free wheat we told you this this solution just gets you average but it costs less and these guys won't even get you average over here unfortunately today we're here to confess that we've made a terrible calculative error we've told you that 92% of all mutual funds lose to the market it turns out that we typed all the data into our spreadsheet years ago and hit print to get the graphical representation and unfortunately looking at a little more closely now it turns out that the graph was printed upside down we've been telling you 92% of all funds loose to the average it turns out the exact opposite is true we hope that our mistake in no way affected your investment decisions or returns there were the two graphs the corrected graph which looked entirely normal and then the incorrect graph which was just the prior graph flipped on its head with all the lettering on the axes upside down we didn't think anyone would fall for our joke at the end of that letter we just had a single link that said email us tell us what you think empathize with us we received more than 2000 emails over the next 24 hours many from financial advisors letting us know they knew we were wrong all along which is pretty shocking in its own way we received five separate letters from law firms letting us know they were already organizing class-action suits against the Motley Fool and the best letter of all came from a Motley Fool member in the state of North Carolina he said I'm not going to tell you all anything except go down to your newspaper shop and pick up a copy of the raleigh-durham News and Observer now we put our joke up at midnight and we were told at 8 a.m. to go get a copy of the daily paper so we jogged down open it up flip through and shockingly they're on the front page of the business section was a headline top right Motley Fool apologizes and the subtext was 92% of mutual funds italicized beat the market's average so the ignorance and illiteracy extends everywhere throughout the business world about what's actually useful and effective for an individual but you can teach that very quickly and simply in just a few class periods that can actually help an 18 year old 22 year old to make smart simple decisions for the rest of their lives now we received a letter that day from the head of the business section of the Raleigh Durham News & Observer he wrote I started in this job four months ago I wanted to let you guys know one of the first things I said was let's get a copy of that Motley Fool newspaper contract cuz I really want to get their syndicated newspaper column here in our paper and I wanted to let you know that after the stunt that you guys pulled today I plan to be here for the next 30 years why don't you apply to have your column in our paper when I retire thirty years from now and so I made a commitment on that day the commitment I made was to tell the story about the raleigh-durham news and observers mistake in every speech I give for the next thirty years I closed with my calls to action what Professor Tom Gleason learned when with the onset of Parkinson's disease is that he had to teach in a new way he couldn't just lecture he had to really get to know a few students well and work with them he couldn't be active as active as he wanted to be physically and so he began to work exclusively with students who were working on independent projects in different places around the world I think that what Professor Gleason taught me in a single essay and ideas that we use in the Motley Fool internally at our company and spread out across our community is get to know every individual you're working with put them in a position to be an active learner and a teacher and to learn by doing and help them to evolve their interests to evolve the curriculum of their life and to use the tools that they've learned in the liberal arts education for the decades to come so thank you very much thank you for suffering fools gladly

Author Since: Mar 11, 2019

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