To Make a Better Tomorrow, Let’s Fix Education Today
Christian Rebernik is the Co-Founder & CEO of Tomorrow University of Applied Scienes, his past put him on the path the change the future.
Learn about Christian and how the university for a better tomorrow came to life.
When I was young, I never got great grades
I was the average kid. My parents didn’t push me. My friends didn’t push me. Only my grandparents said I needed to study to become successful. For me, learning was irrelevant: why would I need to learn history, physics, or biology? It was boring. So I studied for exams, but only to pass them.
Since my classes didn’t hold my attention, I decided to start a school magazine. I enjoyed learning about editing, printing, selling Ads, distribution, and more. Many things worked out, and some things didn’t, but I ended up publishing the magazine for all 4 years. It was super exciting and enriching. It was the first time I realized that learning didn’t have to be this static, test-oriented environment where grades were the focus at all costs.
Experience mattered, and it could be more impactful
After graduating with average grades from high school, I signed up to study economics at university because I wasn’t sure what to do, and economics seemed “safe”. Unfortunately, my situation still didn’t improve: lectures still bored me and I only studied when I had to take an exam.
I started another business, this time a company (http://iphos.com/) that developed and hosted internet applications. Starting my first company forced me to face many challenges all at once. This started with simple things, like how to pitch, how to make an offer, or how to build a product. I often lacked the skills or knowledge even to know how to approach problems, let alone how to solve them. But while working on the project, a part of mastering the challenge was learning and applying what I learned. For example, when the company won our first contract to develop an e-commerce shop, this required us to learn a new development language. In order to keep our first customer happy, we learned on the fly and got rapid feedback. Back then, it took a long time to find and access the right information. And I would have wished for more guidance. But the experience of having to figure out what worked, what didn’t, and how to improve was invaluable.
By the time the company had started to scale, I had learned software development in-depth and could count large companies like Allianz and Bawag PSK as loyal customers. All my focus was on the company and so I quit studying and left school.
This was the start of my career as an entrepreneur and tech enthusiast.
More importantly, this was the beginning of how I realized that overcoming challenges in the real world was the most valuable way to build an appreciation and habit for lifelong learning.
Knowledge is everywhere, mastery is in short supply
As a student at school and university, the goal was to display and regurgitate as much knowledge as possible. Teachers focused on providing a steady stream of facts that I had only hoped to pick up sitting in a lecture hall. There was limited interaction or time to test what you learned in real-time. Knowledge and memorization were the limiting factors in order to grow and improve.
Today, thanks to the internet, knowledge is accessible, and broadly available, and you can teach yourself. You can now access more information on your phone than you could memorize in a lifetime. Yet we still face significant challenges as a society. Access to knowledge itself doesn’t actually solve problems. Rather, like what I learned to found companies, it is the ability to learn, apply, overcome, and finally, master skills that help you find solutions.
I now know that I wasn’t wrong for feeling disengaged from classes.
Schools just hadn’t caught up with this transformation in access to information. And they haven’t shifted to focus on mastery as the primary display of achievement.
Education today is still outdated
When the pandemic started and my kids were forced into homeschooling, I was in the lucky position to be able to take the time to help them learn.
When I helped them to study, I noticed how hard it was for them to concentrate and stay motivated. The teachers define when they learn, what, and how they learn. They taught all the kids the same topics, even if they found it hard to concentrate or were uninterested.
Seeing my own kids struggle today reminded me of my experience in school. I finished school over two decades ago, and since then, we know so much more about education. The internet provides abundant information, and we have the technology for a better education. How is it even possible that we still educate students in the same way?
The challenges of tomorrow require educated and empowered change makers
Looking at my kids, I felt lost on how to help them understand that they were not the problem. How should these kids, who are told just to follow the teacher blindly, succeed meaningfully? How will they be prepared for what the future will hold?
The challenges we face now as a society — climate change, fake news, wealth inequality, biodiversity loss, systemic depression — are only increasing in scale and complexity. The skills we need to address these issues adequately cannot be taught with the education model we’ve inherited.
As they say, “You can’t do today’s job with yesterday’s methods and be in business tomorrow.”
There has to be a better model. And it has to be one centered on empowering everyone to be change agents, both locally and globally.
What does the future of education need to look like?
In my search to understand the problem better and look for answers, I was lucky enough to meet Thomas. While my experience is with developing products, his background was in education and student empowerment.
I remember our first very passionate conversation about education.
We both saw the rise and potential for scale in online education. But we also saw its shortcomings:
- Zoom replacement lectures aren’t engaging.
- Limited interaction with the subject matter and an inability to tailor to your specific goals create generic, one-dimensional courses.
- Lack of connectivity with fellow students leaves you missing out on moments of serendipity and exploration.
- Most importantly, most platforms are not focused on overcoming real-life challenges.
Both of us agreed on the problem and that now is the time to tackle it.
Together we founded Tomorrow University of Applied Sciences. Working with Thomas from the academic perspective, we both shared the same vision:
"To transform Education to be focused on creating change makers."
The founding of Tomorrow University of Applied Sciences
In intense sessions and with much support, we worked on Tomorrow University of Applied Sciences' core concept and thought about how we wanted to translate the vision into reality.
ToU will deliver on this vision in several ways:
- All programs are delivered using a unique challenge-based, active learning model: Case methods, projects, and social learning have all been done. The challenge format is a combination of these, a best of all worlds. It gives students a tangible result: a truly entrepreneurial mindset that can adapt to 21st-century problems rather than skills training for a specific job. The world is full of challenges, not cases. So why not build an education that addresses these challenges?
- ToU features the first fully adaptive, competency-based skill profile: Each student chooses a mission and matches their coursework and challenges to their mission. The platform core is based on bidirectional learning — the student shares their interests/goals, and the platform provides feedback to the student around these goals. The student and the platform work together to refine and adjust as the course progresses. Students get real-time feedback on what skills they have developed, building a real-time profile of their skills. Their coursework then shifts into reflecting on where they are in their learning development. In essence, we are building the first genuinely learner-driven and learner-responsive degrees.
- We focus on mastery and not completion or grades: Students will have solo and group challenges that mimic real-life scenarios. The goal will be to see how you adapt, what you learn from the challenge, and what you can take forward into your work beyond the course. Additionally, the truest sign of mastery is being able to teach what you’ve learned. That’s why all of our alumni can come back to showcase their mastery by teaching the next generation. One of our core beliefs is built on the premise that understanding technology is fundamental to any type of work in the future. All of our courses will reinforce this belief — in the coursework itself and access and use of the platform.
- Being tech-literate must be a given in order to adapt: Most importantly, my hope is that Tomorrow University of Applied Sciences becomes a platform for building more adaptable and engaged citizens. In my own career, I have been in many types of roles. Education can no longer focus on teaching you skills for only one job. 21st-century societies demand that we build better, more well-rounded citizens that can adapt to roles that will shift over time and are technology forward. Students/citizens will need to be able to build an entrepreneurial mindset.
Building a better tomorrow, starting today
My personal mission is to inspire others to build a world where everyone is conscious of their environment, their global impact, and their own capabilities. With the skills and a growth mindset to learn limitlessly, I believe we will not just master the challenges of tomorrow, but we will also like the world we have built.
We hope that everyone will join us in building a better tomorrow.