Microverse is a global learning community that was founded based on our vision of the future of work and education. Our learning methodology was created with a rich combination of ideas, pedagogical innovation, and an ambitious goal in mind. And with that, I want to explore the problems Microverse is designed to solve and the future we are building towards.
The world is quickly becoming a knowledge economy. In theory, every human being has the capability to grow intellectually to be suited for these opportunities. The problem, however, is that the work opportunities of a knowledge-based global economy are not evenly distributed. Parts of the world are by and large shut out from being able to participate, and that simply does not make sense.
In this article, we'll discuss:
1. Global Problems Require Global Solutions
2. Reimagining an Educational System for the 21st Century
3. The Rise of Remote Work
4. Microverse's Pedagogical Approach
5. A Global Learning Community Led by Students, not Instructors
6. Eliminating Financial Barriers to the Knowledge Economy
7. A Scalable Solution: Job Placement and Collaborative Learning Required
8. The Microverse System of Support
9. Microverse of the Future
Global Problems Require Global Solutions
Shutting out billions of people around the world from the new economy doesn’t seem fair. More critically, it inhibits our capabilities in the face of the biggest threats as well as opportunities in the world today: the coronavirus pandemic, climate change, pollution, cancer and other diseases, hunger, and space exploration, to name a few.
These issues are threats to societies in every corner of the globe, and they’re almost certainly not going to be solved by individuals working alone. They require sophisticated coordination by diverse teams working across international borders. But most people do not have the tools to take part in solving these issues. Nor do they have the access: Most of the world’s best universities that prepare people to solve these problems are in concentrated hubs in just a handful of countries around the world. They’re not accessible to everyone in every country.
Even when someone doesn’t have these physical barriers, they may still face financial barriers. Receiving a higher education from an elite institution gets more expensive every year, and people spend decades getting out of student debt. The financial limitations also affect institutions, since it can be difficult to find, hire, and compensate the right educators to prepare students for careers in the knowledge-based economy.
It’s not hard to see that there’s a significant gap in opportunities that enable people to work to solve the largest global problems of the 21st century.
Reimagining an Educational System for the 21st Century
From elementary school to institutions of higher learning, our education system is mostly based on structures from more than a century ago. It’s a system that prioritizes rote learning, memorization, and repetition and neglects things like creativity, critical thinking, and collaboration. It’s an educational system that is mostly irrelevant to solving the problems we’re facing.
Some people point to online learning, which is making quality education available to almost everyone anywhere. But the truth is, online learning is not yet fulfilling on the promise of what it could be. Sure, online learning connects students with great content from some of the top educators in the world, from Harvard, MIT, and other top institutions, as well as the top thinkers across different industries.
But a great education is about a lot more than great content. With online learning, it’s easy for students to lose motivation or get distracted by what’s going on in their homes and personal lives. Plus, they have no peers to hold them accountable and share in the learning process together. And finally, the current system of online education does not include a network. The value of referrals and personal connections in the process of learning and career-building cannot be understated.
It’s easy to see how most of online learning as it exists now lacks the important element of community, which therefore makes it inadequate for addressing the biggest problems and opportunities mentioned above.
Global Communities of Online Learners
We have to acknowledge just how much access we currently have to all types of media for learning: online courses, podcasts, books, and more are available for free or very cheap to virtually anyone with access to the internet. But reimagining online learning to make it more suited for solving the complex global problems of today requires an understanding that the internet doesn’t just make these great resources available; it also facilitates collaborative learning.
Tools like email, social media, and video applications like Zoom, allow people to learn together, no matter where they are in the world. We don’t have to be alone in our learning. We can get the answers and support that we need in real time and don’t have to rely strictly on our own willpower to stay focused.
This is important, because even the most focused and motivated people need a community and some support to stay motivated. When you consider that it takes thousands of hours of deep learning in order to become a software developer, it’s not hard to see how having to go it alone can become an insurmountable challenge.
Along with improved accountability and support for individual learners, collaborative learning also helps people develop strong ‘soft’ skills like relationship-building and cooperation, which are needed to thrive in a global, collaborative work environment.
Promoting a spirit of interconnectedness for a community of global learners lends itself to solving global problems, since it will take collaboration by global teams to solve them.
The Rise of Remote Work
Knowing that global teams are needed to solve the most complex world problems, it’s incredible to see just how much growth remote work has seen over the last several years. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, many teams that had always worked in offices together suddenly started working remotely.
Pandemics aside, the remote work trend has been building for years. Organizations have come to understand that remote teams give them access to a much more diverse talent pool, whether that means across several time zones in a country or from all over the world. Companies like GitLab, Zapier, inVision, Automattic, Microverse, and others have seen the benefits of operating with completely remote teams.
But even some of the world’s tech giants are moving in this direction. Consider this May 2020 quote from Twitter:
"The past few months have proven we can make [remote work] work. So if our employees are in a role and situation that enables them to work from home and they want to continue to do so forever, we will make that happen."
Later the same month, Facebook announced some of its team members were making a permanent transition to working remotely, and that about half of its workforce would be remote in the next 10 years. The trend is much broader than most people acknowledge. And as more and more companies shift to remote work, it creates incentives for organizations to develop even better tools for communication and collaboration with global teams.
And as teams get better at working together and communicating on a remote global scale, we find ourselves more adept at overcoming geographical boundaries as well as the barriers of culture as we solve complex global problems.
Experts Challenge the Status Quo of Education
Marc Andreesen recently published an article entitled “IT’S TIME TO BUILD” in which he expressed his anger at the need to solve so many pressing issues and our inability to do so. Among the many issues he points out, he asks the question: “Why can’t 100,000 or 1 million students a year attend Harvard?”
When I hear this question, it makes me think:
Why can’t we build a learning system that offers the quality of Harvard but in a more cost-effective way, so that it’s accessible to more people all over the world?
The question forces us to reimagine education.
This brings us to Bloom’s 2 sigma problem: Educational psychologist Benjamin Bloom found that students who received one-on-one tutoring using mastery learning techniques performed much better than students who were taught via traditional classroom methods - that is, a single instructor teaching a group of 30+ students.
He also suggested that it could be possible to alter traditional learning to lead to similar results as one-on-one tutoring, since having a hired tutor for every student would be expensive. Bloom challenged educators and innovators around the world to come up with such improvements.
So is there a way to answer Andreesen’s question, ‘why can’t 1 million people attend Harvard?’ while also solving Bloom’s 2 sigma problem? The solution requires an innovative approach to education that’s also scalable.
The Microverse Pedagogical Approach
At Microverse, we’ve created a solution that can address both of these problems, and it’s based on three pillars: collaborative learning, mastery learning, and project-based learning. Let’s unpack each of these pillars one by one.
The core idea of Microverse and the foundation upon which Microverse is built is collaborative learning. The idea is that we can create a learning system based on peers - rather than instructors - to scale most, if not all, of the needs of a high-quality education. At Microverse, peers can hold each other accountable, help each other, and create an experience that makes each student want to learn each day.
Mastery learning is the concept that everyone spends time learning a concept until they reach a point of mastery. Consider how in a traditional classroom environment, the instructor has to cater the pace of learning to the average student. This means the top-performing students are likely to get bored and the underperforming students are likely to fall behind, which can become a massive gap over time.
Mastery learning, meanwhile, means that each individual student must master a concept before they are able to move to the next one. At Microverse, this means every student reaches the same level of mastery and achievement in each topic covered in our curriculum.
Finally, project-based learning, which gives students a practical understanding of how the concepts they learn apply to the kinds of projects they’ll be eventually working in. When you can associate a concept to something that’s real and useful, you’re far more encouraged to want to learn. On the flip side, if you’re not able to apply a concept that’s been taught to you in an actual project, you probably haven’t really learned it.
A Global Learning Community, without Dedicated Instructors
One of the unique characteristics of the Microverse approach is that there aren’t any teachers. This is by design: Trying to solve Bloom’s 2 sigma problem by assigning every student an individual teacher simply is not scalable. If you’re trying to educate millions of students every year, you cannot train, hire, and pay the same number of teachers.
At Microverse, the reason we don’t have teachers goes beyond the impracticality of having a 1:1 student to teacher ratio. It’s also because we understand that every student that comes through Microverse is going to continue learning for the rest of their lives after they graduate. Some of the skills they learn as developers will become obsolete within a few years of landing a job, which means they will have to be committed to continued learning. This is the reality of virtually any worker in the knowledge-based economy.
Instead of teachers, we have peers, managers, mentors and others who are available to provide support to every student as well as to hold them accountable. In this way, Microverse prepares students for how they are going to have to learn and be managed once they graduate. In other words, we give students the opportunity to learn ‘how to learn’ during their time at Microverse.
Currently, Microverse has students from 100 countries around the world, but what makes Microverse a global learning community is not that it’s available to students all over the world. It’s that our students spend every single day learning to collaborate with people from every corner of the planet.
The value of this cannot be understated: As mentioned above, the biggest problems in the world today will have to be solved through global collaboration. This is exactly what Microverse students are preparing for, and it’s why collaborative learning is the main pillar upon which our school is built.
Our students do not just go on to become software developers or data scientists. They also harness the crucial soft skills become global citizens and collaborators, no matter their background, culture, religion, ethnicity, country -- or even financial situation.
Eliminating Financial Barriers to the Knowledge Economy
Another thing that comes to mind when we consider Andreesen’s question about 1 million people attending Harvard: Higher education is expensive. It’s not hard to recognize that many people spread across the developing world are faced with financial barriers. These barriers prevent these people from getting an education to become global collaborators working towards solutions for 21st century problems.
At Microverse, we have a solution for those facing financial barriers: We don’t charge students any tuition up front. This means that not being able to afford an education is never a reason people can’t get a Microverse education.
Instead, we offer our students income share agreements (ISAs), which means they don’t pay tuition until they’ve landed a well-paying job in software development, at which point they pay 15% of their salary until their tuition is covered.
Microverse is the first school to make ISAs available to students from every country in the world. This is what truly makes Microverse an opportunity for millions around the world to take part in the knowledge economy.
But for many, offering an education at no upfront cost is not enough. Many of Microverse’s would-be students have financial obligations they need to meet every month, and the full-time commitment of our program means they don’t have time to earn money to cover living expenses and feed their families.
At Microverse, we don’t want any financial constraints to be the reason someone doesn’t receive an education from our school. This is why we have experimented with providing monthly stipends that have enabled students to cover living expenses while they are studying. In many cases, this has made a huge difference for students who want to be fully focused on their education and not have to maintain a job at the same time.
While we are still working towards being able to offer financial help like this at scale, it’s an important part of our vision of the future of education and the Microverse we are building.
A Scalable Solution: Job Placement and Collaborative Learning Required
This system is fully scalable for preparing millions of people for careers in the knowledge economy -- especially those around the world who would have otherwise been shut out from participating. But in order for this to work and continue to grow, there’s a crucial requirement: that students land jobs upon graduating.
Since graduates don’t pay tuition until they find a job with a salary that crosses a certain threshold, the school doesn’t make money until this happens either. Microverse has no bigger incentive than to help graduates find jobs as quickly as possible. We are driven by this mission, and it’s what sets us apart from most learning institutions.
It’s just as important for every student to be equally committed to the collaborative learning process - not just for themselves but also for the peers with whom they are partnered. If a student has a peer that’s not showing up to learn every day or the peer is not putting in the same level of effort as they are, then the student is far less likely to see the positive impact of working with that peer.
But fortunately, when paired students are aligned in their level of daily commitment, we see the fruits of positive interdependence, in which both students see the mutual benefit of continuing to show up and grow together. At Microverse, we make it a priority to enable these kinds of relationships.
Mutual Accountability in Learning
To understand the concept of mutual accountability, we can start by considering two people who are each committing to regularly go to the gym - but just to themselves, not each other. If one of them has a day that they don’t feel like going to the gym, it’s easy for them to just take the day off even if they don’t really need to. But when these people are counting on each other to show up at the gym, they’re far less likely to take the day off.
At Microverse, if two students are paired together and one is committing seven or eight hours per day to learning, while the other puts in just one or two hours per day, the learning process will be affected for both students - not just the one who isn’t meeting their commitment. This is why we place such an emphasis on ensuring peers are making an equitable level of commitment to each other. If not, the educational methodology won’t work for everyone.
At some point in the future, we plan to offer students a part-time option for completing their Microverse education. Of course, it will take these students longer to graduate and land a job, but the model will still be possible as long as collaborative learning partners are making an equal level of commitment to the program. The key is to define what that level of commitment looks like.
A Path for Even Greater Financial Flexibility
While ISAs are a great way to eliminate financial barriers for our students, as is our plan to provide living stipends at scale, there’s a way for us to create even more flexibility and have the ability to scale our model even faster. And that happens through enlisting the help of investors who are interested in making a positive impact by diversifying their portfolios with ISAs.
This works through investors purchasing ISAs at a discount to support the education of Microverse students around the world. This way, the school gets some of the money upfront, which can be used to cover the operational costs of educating students. Meanwhile, the investor sees the upside once the student they invest in lands a job and is able to pay off the ISA.
To some, this may prompt the question: If Microverse sells an ISA upfront, does that mean Microverse no longer has an incentive to help the student get a job and do well?
The answer is no for two reasons: First, we only sell the minimum amount to cover the operational expenses (including living stipends in the future), while reserving part of the upside so that we're always aligned with the student. Secondly, no matter how many investors buy upfront, they won't get a return unless students get a job and pay back their ISAs. Which means that, even in those cases, Microverse is extremely incentivized to help students achieve their goals or we will lose the support from investors to invest in the education of our students.
This is a viable way for us to invest in the training side of the experience, while also giving us more flexibility to offer living stipends to the students who need them. In turn, this reduces our limitations for providing a quality education to anyone in the world, no matter their financial situation.
The Microverse System of Support
Peer-to-peer learning at Microverse works through a unique structure with many layers of support in different areas of a student’s education.
First, each student has a coding partner. This is the person they spend up to seven hours with each day, building projects, learning together, and holding each other accountable to stay focused. When I think of these peer relationships, a Nordic expression comes to mind: “Shared joy is a double joy, and shared frustration is half the frustration.” It cannot be more true in this case.
Then, we have accountability teams, which consist of about five or six students. While coding partners change over the course of the curriculum, accountability teams stay the same throughout the program. These teams meet twice a day, once in the morning and again in the afternoon. In the event that a student’s coding partner has a local holiday or is not able to do the work in a given day, accountability teams make sure the student is still showing up to do the work.
As students progress through the program and grow in their capabilities, they eventually become project reviewers for peers throughout Microverse. In fact, there are a number of ways each student becomes a motivational mentor to other students. Project reviewers can even become Leads, which work on improving the curriculum and design of projects.
Take that a step further, and as mentors become alumni, they can help those who are still studying prepare for interviews and finding a job, using both their knowledge as well as network. It’s not hard to see all of these elements together allow us to provide a lot of the value created by teachers, tutors, mentors, and coaches using a strong peer support system.
Collaborative Learning Supported by Technology and Experts
Technology allows our system of accountability to run smoothly as it allows us to detect whether or not students are meeting their commitments.
For example, we have integrations with the Zoom API that lets us know if students are showing up to meetings, if they are participating, and whether they are on time. We also have integrations with the Github API that allow us to see certain patterns in the way each student is coding and how they work with their coding partner. It allows us to detect major issues in their coding and automatically intervene to point out the error or make corrections if necessary.
Of course, there are certain important components of the education and career building process that are too complex to be scaled by technology. This is why Microverse has career coaches who are experts at things like resume building, interview preparation, salary negotiation, and making career decisions. These coaches stay available to the members of the Microverse community even after they graduate, helping them navigate their careers long after they land their first job. Eventually, we’d also like to have peers and alumni be more involved in these kinds of activities.
This brings me to another layer of support at Microverse, which is our student success team. This is the team who is there for our students throughout the program in the instances where peers and technology are unable to help address an issue they are facing. This can be issues pertaining to finances, motivation, mental health, or other things. There is nothing like the human touch in these instances, and we make sure every student has that support when they need it.
Microverse of the Future
Looking at Microverse’s collaborative learning environment and the peer support system, the accountability teams, the coaches, the ISAs, and the living stipends, it becomes clear how accessible Microverse is to people globally and how we are able to scale a support system to millions of people around the world. You also get a glimpse of what Microverse might look like 20 years from now.
We imagine a future where everyone has the possibility to develop their potential and connect to global opportunities. Better yet, it will be possible to achieve this regardless of physical or geographical limitations.
Among the challenges, however, to getting to that point is to show local communities in every country that these things are possible. It’s easy to say from Silicon Valley that these things are possible. But in the more overlooked places around the world, these concepts can be a bit harder to grasp. There’s no better way to shed light on these possibilities than to bring them to the communities themselves.
Physical Space Will Allow Microverse to Make an Even Great Impact
This could be done by opening co-learning spaces in some of these areas. We can think of co-learning spaces as similar to co-working spaces, which have become popular for remote workers all over the world.
With co-learning spaces, families of students will be able to physically see the place where the students are working every day, so that it becomes something more real to them. In theory, co-learning spaces could be as simple as a room with a few desks and some computers or perhaps a learning facility with as many as 100 computers.
Any entity, whether it’s a national or local government, a startup, or an investor, could open up these types of co-learning spaces in a way that allows them to be part of the success of students. Meanwhile, the students who learn at these co-learning spaces become part of a community, whether or not they are learning the same material, and regardless of how far along each student is in their coursework.
If we consider the possibility of having these types of co-learning spaces in different places all around the world - whether it’s 10, 20, or 30 years down the line - and we consider the students, mentors, alumni, and others in the Microverse network who could be a part of it, we see how Microverse has the potential to become more than just a school for preparing developers for careers in remote work. It becomes a powerful global network and support system that encompasses every area of knowledge, work, and career advancement.
This network is not just valuable for students, alumni, or even Microverse itself. Instead, the value is for the businesses and other entities who are seeking global talent. When they come to Microverse, they know they’re getting more than just great developers, or professionals in any other vertical that we train people for; they are getting global citizens who are ready to tackle the major issues that humanity has to face.
In the end, it’s hard to imagine a world in 2040 where remote work is not more important than it is today, where globalization is not more advanced than it is today, and ultimately where talent and opportunities are not more connected than they are today.
And this is the future that Microverse is building towards.