Teachur: Bachelor’s Degrees for a $1000!

February 1, 2016

Teachur Screengrab

By Gabrielle.

I’m SO EXCITED to share this post with you. I know I haven’t written an update in ages on what Ben Blair has been up to. And today, I finally get to tell you! He’s been building a brand new company with my brother Josh Stanley, called Teachur. And it’s such a cool thing — it has the potential to transform higher education in a major way.

Teachur is a new online platform where students can earn an accredited college degree for the flat price of $1000.

$1000!!!

Intrigued? Well you can learn all the details on the Kickstarter page that launched today. There is a short video packed with info, and the story on the Kickstarter page has even more info. If you’re not in the mood to click over, here is Teachur as I understand it:

The cost of higher education has increased from $40,o00 (in today’s dollars) in 1982, to $128,000 today. Which is insane! People used to be able to work a summer job and then pay for tuition. But now it’s a student loan model. The average student graduates with a 4-year degree and $32,000 in debt. Yikes!

And the thing is, the increase in price hasn’t made the curriculum and teaching significantly better. They’ve stayed pretty much the same. Instead, the new costs are tied to things like massive stadiums and a huge increase in the number of people in administration.

teachur screengrab 2

Josh and Ben wondered: could they separate the actual learning that takes place when earning a college degree, from the inflated costs of a high-end campus? And if they could separate it, how much would the actual learning cost a student? Turns out: they think they can do it for $1000. So amazing!!! Currently, the least expensive degrees out there are $20,000. So $1000 is revolutionary!

So what is Teachur going to offer? Well if you’ve ever taken an online class, you might be picturing something like that, but Teachur isn’t planning to offer online classes. Instead, they will give students Objectives and Assessments. What are Objectives? When a teacher is building curriculum, they come up with a set of objectives that students need to master for any particular class, and then they might align the objectives to guidelines for their specific discipline. Objectives are basically a list of everything a student needs to learn in a class. So for a U.S. History course, there might be 20-200 objectives (depending on how detailed the objectives are), including something like: student understands significant causes and consequences of the Revolutionary War.

What are Assessments? They are tests and reviews. They are a way a student and assessor can see if they’ve mastered the objectives. I’m sure you remember these very well from your own schooling. Sometimes they are written, sometimes they are multiple choice, sometimes they are oral reviews.

With Teachur, students will receive a set a objectives for their desired degree. It’s basically a path: learn this, then this, then this…. with assessments along the way… till you get to the accredited degree. Students will master the objectives in any way they like — watching online videos or tutorials, reading books or essays, talking with an expert. Then, Teachur will provide the assessments. When the student passes all the assessments? They’ve earned their degree!!

One more note on Assessments. The big question with these, is how to make them secure. And this is an awesome part: Teachur will be tying assessments to the Blockchain. I’m no Blockchain expert, but essentially it’s the security system that Bitcoin was built on, and it’s actually much more secure than the current testing systems that happen at real-life universities. If you’re curious, you can read about it here. The whole thing is so dang cool!

At the same time that the cost of education has gone up, up up, the internet has made it possible to learn pretty much anything you can think of at no cost. And Teachur will help people take advantage of that fact by giving them an accredited path of what to learn and in which order. If you want to learn to be a rocket scientist, the knowledge to become one is freely available. You just need to know what it is you’re looking for (objectives), and you need to prove that you’ve actually learned it (assessments).

Clearly, Teachur won’t be appealing to everybody, and I don’t imagine for a minute that it will replace our university system. Certainly, there is something valuable and wonderful about the experience of attending real-life classes on a campus, something that goes beyond simply learning the offered curriculum. And yes, there are lots of people that learn best that way. But not everyone does, and not everyone makes use of what a campus has to offer, and not everyone can afford a traditional university education. Some people really just want the learning and the degree.

How’s this for a metaphor: It’s like if you went to the hardware store to buy a hammer, but you can’t just get a hammer. In order to get the hammer, you have to buy a whole deluxe 50-piece tool kit. The deluxe tool kit is awesome! Filled with high quality tools. There’s a drill, a tape measure, a screwdriver set and tons of useful objects. But the thing is, you own some of those tools already, and when you look closely, you know you won’t use about half of what’s in the kit — even though the tools are excellent. You really just need the hammer. And you only have a budget for the hammer. Why do you have to buy the whole deluxe tool kit?

Josh and Ben are perfectly trained to build Teachur, and they’ve already been working on it for months and months. Ben Blair’s PhD is in Educational Philosophy from Columbia and the bulk of his professional life has been building curriculum and aligning objectives. Josh also studied at Columbia — with a focus on Educational Technology, and he’s spent his career thus far working as an instructional technologist, building educational tools and directing college faculty on how to incorporate technology in their teaching. As you know, Ben Blair has 6 kids, and my brother Josh has 5, so they are both keenly aware of the realties of college and what it costs.

Why Kickstarter? Well, like I mentioned, they have already put months and months into building Teachur, but they’ve reached a point where they need a bigger team to make this happen in an impactful way — they want to offer 130+ degrees! And they can’t do it on their own. Kickstarter is an awesome way to gauge interest. Sure, I’m totally into it. But I’m the wife of Ben and the sister of Josh. Are other people interested? That’s what the Kickstarter will tell them.

So I hope you go check it out! I’d love to discuss it with you and I’d love to hear what you think of it. Is there anything confusing? Anything you especially like? And what are your thoughts on the rewards – you can have a campus building named after you! Hah!

I’d also love your thoughts on higher education in general. We’ve talked about paying for college before, but what’s your current thinking on it? Does it stress you out? Would something like Teachur offer hope? Chime in!

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{ 90 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Mariah February 1, 2016 at 3:32 pm

So cool! I love more resourceful uses for the internet. My biggest question: Do the students have to just find the study materials themselves? I think that would work great for some courses, not so great for others… I’m taking an oil painting course at a local campus and have been taught things in the classroom that I’ve never been able to find online. So trying to do a class like that would be interesting.

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2 Ben Blair February 1, 2016 at 4:50 pm

Good question, Mariah! Certainly some programs would be a better fit for online learning than others, and that will remain the case for a while. But we also anticipate that pressures to bridge the gap will increase, so people will create and share e.g. quality online oil painting materials as the demand or value for that goes up. We envision a community where people fill in the holes as much as possible for where one could go to master different objectives–and we would also welcome in person teaching resources as well. Ultimately, we want to make sure we have good objectives, aligned to respected programs, and assessments that genuinely reflect mastery (to the degree that’s possible), and trust users to find and share the best teaching resources, wherever they may be. We also anticipate offering guides if people need more structure or direction.

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3 Gillian February 2, 2016 at 4:36 am

Good idea! It might be helpful to also include a list of possible resources for each course in case people have no idea where to start. Perhaps each course could have a page where current and previous students could write about resources that helped/are helping them learn the information necessary to complete the course.

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4 Carina Miller February 3, 2016 at 11:46 am

Teachur sounds like an amazing option!! In particular for my brother who is in his early 20s and is extremely bright and a self-learner. So much so that he keeps dropping out of school because traditional college is too boring and not fast paced enough for him. He will read a physics textbook cover to cover just to learn the material but for no credit! It has been so frustrating. I am sending this information to him now…

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5 Ben Blair February 4, 2016 at 2:02 pm

Great example of someone who could benefit from Teachur. Thanks for sharing, Carina!

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6 Rachel February 1, 2016 at 3:34 pm

I LOVE this idea. I work with kids attending a junior college and their frustration at the system – lack of classes, lack of transfer options, only one track to take, etc. – is palpable. I was in the same system but 20 years ago and i’m blown away by how quickly and drastically it has changed. These kids are looking at 6-8 years just to get a bachelors degree because they can’t move forward, all the while spending more and more money on classes they can’t see the benefit of taking. This could be groundbreaking.

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7 Design Mom February 1, 2016 at 4:52 pm

6 to 8 years? That’s soul crushing. Higher Education is in need of some major disruption to the current model.

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8 Meredith February 2, 2016 at 6:32 pm

It seems like a trade school model for teaching. So so perfect.

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9 Sam February 1, 2016 at 3:49 pm

I think this idea could have a profound effect on the way in which people get degrees. I’m on my second bachelors degree and I find myself often sitting in lectures, completely annoyed that I’m paying to sit and listen to content that I could easily obtain myself. I’m a visual learner, I need to read the content to retain it, so sitting for three hours listening to someone talk at me, is like three hours wasted. Like you said, this way of learning won’t be for everyone, but it would make higher education an obtainable goal for many, instead of a financial burden. Good luck with the campaign.

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10 Design Mom February 1, 2016 at 4:55 pm

Thanks for the thoughtful response, Sam. My inbox and FB messages are filling up with stories from people like you that can see the benefit of a service like Teachur — and I keep being blown away by each unique situation. There are people that almost finished their degree 20 years ago, and can’t figure out a reasonable way to go back and finish now. Teachur could be the perfect fit.

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11 Jilleun Jasperson February 1, 2016 at 3:49 pm

As a current collage student but not necessarily a “traditional” student. I’m 26 and only go to school part time, and some of the reason for that is so I can work and not have to take out a loan. I think this is an amazing idea! Although I definitely love hands on learning, but I think this idea will be so helpful to so many!

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12 Ben Blair February 1, 2016 at 4:54 pm

Great point, Jilleun!

Though our materials (objectives and assessments) would be online, the actual learning need not be. So we would absolutely welcome hands-on, in-person, or on-the-job learning–or whatever way works for you to learn the material best. Wherever and however you learned doesn’t matter. As long as you can pass the assessments, you’ve demonstrated degree-level mastery!

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13 Mariah February 1, 2016 at 3:55 pm

Also – this actually makes it possible for grandma or anyone else to ‘gift’ the price of college tuition. That’s not feasible for most people to do these days with normal universities.

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14 Design Mom February 1, 2016 at 5:00 pm

So true! I really love that.

In the same line of thinking, one of the Kickstarter “rewards” is an Endowment. For a $2000 contribution, there will be two full scholarships given in the donor’s name, every year in perpetuity. Isn’t that awesome? For $2000, someone could provide bachelor’s degrees to dozens and dozens of people over the years. With traditional universities, it feels like you have to have Bill Gates-level wealth to give an endowment. I love that this puts a generous gesture in reach for more people.

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15 Jenny also February 1, 2016 at 4:24 pm

What an innovative idea! I would totally donate to the kickstarter campaign if it offered some equity or profit sharing in Teachur. I’m not really interested in a swag or getting my name on a virtual building.

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16 Design Mom February 1, 2016 at 5:03 pm

Thanks for the enthusiasm, Jenny! I always love how supportive you are. Thank you.

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17 Ben Blair February 1, 2016 at 5:22 pm

Hmm. You must not have ever had a virtual building named after you, then. : )

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18 Elizabeth R February 1, 2016 at 4:27 pm

I am on board but could you let us know a little bit more about the accreditation process? And who will be forming the curriculum/assessments?

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19 Ben Blair February 1, 2016 at 4:58 pm

Good questions, Elizabeth! Thanks for your interest!

Since we don’t control the accreditation process, all we can control is how well we align to accrediting requirements. Initially, we anticipate partnering with accredited programs that would reward degrees to students who passed all Teachur requirements for a given degree. We will also seek independent accreditation–though typically a program must be enrolling students for 2 years before you can even apply. To ensure we have done our part, from the get-go, we align our degrees to respected, accredited programs across the nation (e.g. UCLA, UT Austin, etc.) We will also be in close talks with accrediting agencies to ensure we are not surprised. I’ll be directing an internal team for building curriculum and assessments, though down the road, we’ll also work to crowd source some of that.

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20 Alison February 1, 2016 at 4:33 pm

As the parent of two college students I know firsthand the financial burden of higher education in this country. I’m curious how Teachur proposes to be “accredited” – I tried to figure this out via the links but possibly I missed something. I would love to see this country adopt education systems like Switzerland where (somewhat similar to the Teachur example of the graphic artist) a student has a educational path that includes practical work experiences and education.

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21 Ben Blair February 1, 2016 at 5:02 pm

Love your example from Switzerland, Alison. Yes, I agree that we need much more flexibility for student learning paths for a degree than is currently possible. We hope Teachur can influence that to whatever degree. I just responded above to a question on accreditation from Elizabeth, so I’d point you there for that issue.

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22 Paige February 1, 2016 at 4:43 pm

This would be life changing for me. I got my associates degree but then my husband and I got married and then blogging became my job, so I never finished, but would love to actually finish my bachelors degree! This would be such an amazing way for me to get that done!

Paige
http://thehappyflammily.com

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23 Design Mom February 1, 2016 at 5:02 pm

Since I posted this an hour ago, I’ve already heard so many stories similar to yours, Paige. You’re definitely not alone! I think my heart will burst if Teachur is able to help people who never got the chance to finish their degrees mark that off their list. So amazing!

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24 Taylor Kalander February 1, 2016 at 5:50 pm

This project fascinates me. I just backed it and am SO looking forward to its kick-off.

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25 Design Mom February 2, 2016 at 8:40 pm

Thank you for backing it, Taylor! That means a lot.

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26 Lee February 1, 2016 at 6:02 pm

I’m very intrigued and applaud you for attempting to fix a significant problem in this country. There are already have thousands of students doing a non-traditional, online type of study but going into debt in the 10s of thousands to do so. What a difference this would make.

I’m curious about the accrediting process as well. You talk about partnering with an accredited institution – so would the degree actually come from them? Do you have any partnerships lined up?

I’m also curious about the name Teachur. I assume it stands for something but my first reaction is to cringe at the spelling and especially in an institution of higher learning. Love the look of the logo though.

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27 Elizabeth R February 2, 2016 at 10:03 am

Probably a fusion between teacher and yourself? And one word because one word is a big thing on the Internet ie. Uber etc.

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28 Ben Blair February 2, 2016 at 12:16 pm

Thanks for your questions, Lee! Initially, we will closely align our degree program objectives and assessments to respected, accredited programs in the U.S., (e.g. UCLA, UT Austin, etc.) and work to build partnerships with accredited schools that would be interested in offering their degree accreditation for students who complete our assessments. We have had initial conversations with DEAC (deac.org) they would likely be the agency we will seek accreditation from–but an institution must be enrolling students for 2 years before it can even apply. We’ll be in close contact through our development, enrollment, etc. So, yes, these degrees would come from the accredited schools, and no, we don’t have partnerships lined up yet. This may seem a tall order, but it’s not unprecedented, and we think we offer some really compelling value (see next paragraph).

The Blockchain aspect of our program is, I think, the more compelling response to the whole accreditation question. ‘Assessments tied to the Blockchain’ is not the central message of the kickstarter because it doesn’t strike the nerve that ‘$1000 degree’ does, but it is central to our model. Accreditation is meant to verify that a program is of a certain quality, and reliable, legitimate, etc. But in the U.S. at least, when someone goes through an accredited degree program, they only receive a diploma and a transcript that details only what courses they took, and their grades. Like these, our program will provide learners with a diploma, and a transcript, but uniquely, we will provide students with a secure, public, verifiable record (i.e. tied to the Blockchain) of their mastery of each discrete degree objective–this is much more robust evidence for a quality program than a transcript that lists courses and grades only. So, if accreditation is a meant to validate that graduates of a program have gained some specifiable mastery, it is a much weaker model than ours. Meanwhile, we recognize that it is the current model, and we will be working toward accreditation and work to build partnerships to hasten the process.

I understand your concerns about the spelling of our brand, especially in our market. There was an another question about the name, since, in the Kickstarter video, we explicitly state that we don’t provide teaching or instruction. So here’s some background on the name: We built the platform before we ever considered offering affordable degrees. We built it as a tool we wanted to use, and as a tool teachers could use to build and enhance curriculum. So the first market we had in mind was teachers–we still have this market in mind, but it’s not the focus of the Kickstarter. We had toyed around with different names, one was “Pidgit”, but that felt a little too cutesy. Ultimately, I actually really like the name and the spelling. I know not everyone would get this right away, but I think of an urtext: the earliest, original, or most foundational text, and our platform can act like the most foundational basis for teaching. And instead of urteach, it’s teachur, because it rolls off the tongue better… Anyway, thank you sincerely for your questions and comments, we’ll see how the Kickstarter goes and if it looks like there is a good market for moving ahead. I imagine you won’t be the last to question the wisdom our name choice…

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29 mominmendon February 1, 2016 at 6:34 pm

AAAmazing!! And LONG OVERDUE! Wishing Josh and Ben the BEST as they work out details.

As a former adjunct teacher on the university level, I’m a devout believer in the college experience, yet I was appalled at what my students were asked to pay–for everything from application fees to textbooks.

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30 Ben Blair February 4, 2016 at 2:12 pm

Thanks so much for your comments and enthusiasm! I’m also a devout believer in the college experience! Though college is the most refined forum for the experience of deliberate learning, it’s not the only one. Community classes, and even Meet ups are already disrupting the college classroom model. I don’t think of Teachur as replacing college, but rather freeing up, and appreciating genuine educational experiences wherever they may be. With Teachur, someone could audit a college class, attend a community course, start a meet up, or just work through texts to master what they need. And I anticipate people would try a range of approaches, depending on the course/degree. And as you note, we recognize that the college funding model doesn’t make much sense, and there are a lot of people who are left out in the current model, or left in a lot of debt.

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31 Tasha February 6, 2016 at 4:01 pm

I am so excited as I am reading these comments! Congratulations and best success to you! I love your comment, Mr. Blair, about “freeing up” the learner as LIFE is the best teacher. We have such a skewed idea of what college should be as well as a built in acceptance that it will cost. I only feel saddened this was not available for my son as we now have major loan payments that quite frankly are hurting me monthly and will continue to do so for years. This idea is revolutionary and smart and I pray it becomes the way for my future grandchildren one day. I could stand on a soapbox an keep going, but I’ll just say that as a teacher of 26 years the entire system needs a change. Higher standards for all students is not acceptable as well as less and less offerings for job readiness programs is causing an increase in drop-out rates. Perhaps if we allow students to study what they want to learn we will build more successful learners. Your plan for higher education will build on this and America will then become what it should be again!

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32 Claire February 1, 2016 at 6:36 pm

This is an interesting idea and I like how the flat fee of $1000 makes a post secondary degree available to so many.

Could you talk a bit about why you named the company Teachur if you aren’t, as Blair says in the video, teaching, but rather just providing objectives and assessments?

Also many universities require that you take classes outside of your major in order to earn your degree. For example even if you are an engineering major at Duke you have to satisfy a language requirement. How does Teachur approach thus? Does Teachur value a liberal education?

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33 Design Mom February 2, 2016 at 10:38 am

Hi Claire, I don’t know the story of the name, but I think I can answer your question about a liberal education. Ben Blair can jump in if I’m wrong, but my understanding is that if a traditional degree requires general classes across several disciplines (the sort of classes that I called my G.E. classes when I was in school), a Teachur degree would require the same sort of course load.

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34 Ben Blair February 2, 2016 at 12:40 pm

I had this question about our name in mind in my response to Lee above.

Yes, that’s right. Since our degree programs will be aligned to other degree programs at the university level, they will include a liberal education core–to the extent that’s the norm for a given degree.

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35 Claire February 2, 2016 at 5:39 pm

Thanks for answering my questions.

I think it’s a very rare individual who can teach themselves and pace themselves through a 4 year degree. I really think they would have to be ultra bright, incredibly motivated, and terrifically self-disciplined.

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36 Design Mom February 2, 2016 at 10:07 pm

I hear you, Claire. I don’t know if I could do it myself — I tend to crave more structure. But there are other types of scenarios where Teachur makes a ton of sense. Here’s an example from the kickstarter page:

“Jorge never completed college, was offered a good job out of high school and was the type of person that learned well on the job. After 15 years in the field Jorge feels his opportunities for advancement are restricted by his lack of a degree. But Jorge has been learning a lot about the field over the past 15 years. He registers for a degree on Teachur, and by applying his on-the-job knowledge, Jorge can already pass 75% of the required assessments. Teachur guides him to fill in the missing gaps. He earns his degree within a year without having to go into debt.”

37 Cari February 1, 2016 at 6:48 pm

I’m so excited about this! Both about the price and about the potential for students who may not learn best sitting in a lecture hall to get a degree since students can choose how they learn. I’m a special ed teacher and there are some very smart enthusiastic learners out there for whom traditional college isn’t a great match. But something like this might be. Awesome!!

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38 Design Mom February 2, 2016 at 10:34 am

I love your comment, Cari! Hearing from educators who know students that might benefit from Teachur is amazing.

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39 annie February 1, 2016 at 8:16 pm

This is fascinating!! And I’m so impressed with this solution that you’ve envisioned and are making happen. It’s really awe inspiring. Will the $1000 pay for the customized “path” of objectives/assessments but then the way they choose to travel that path may be additional money, like the equivalent of student fees and books? Like if their path necessitates consulting experts or apprenticeships, etc – is that paid for by the student or included in the $1000 and teachur pays the experts, etc like adjunct faculty? And do you think this will be a route feesible for people who want to go on to advanced degrees? Opportunities for recommendations, etc? Or is that outside the target audience, so to speak?
Again – really impressed!! Congrats!

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40 Ben Blair February 2, 2016 at 1:16 pm

Thanks for your questions and engagement, Annie! That’s right. Students will only pay Teachur for verified assessments, however or wherever they learn the material is up to them. We can offer additional resources (or they can find their own) if they need more structure or guidance, but that would be outside the assessment fee.

Your question about the role of relationships with professors for recommendations, etc. is good, and this isn’t our specific target market for this campaign, but I see no reason why students couldn’t cultivate relationships with professors as assessors or learning guides that could play the same or similar roles. For example, a series of assessments could involve submitting progressive drafts of a paper, and the assessor would give feedback, and they would discuss how to improve the writing so the professor would have close to, if not as strong a sense of the student as learner as professors do in traditional schools. Some people may have the impression that all our assessments would be Scantron, or some automated assessment, and while we definitely will make use of tools like this, we view assessment in this sphere, with its current constraints, as still potentially very strong. For my PhD, while I met with my dissertation advisor in person occasionally, it mostly worked like the example above–I submitted drafts, and he replied with comments, challenges, and suggestions. This could be more complicated for certain degrees, but in principle, I don’t see this as an obstacle.

I would also add that our assessments tied to the Blockchain offer much more robust evidence of student mastery than a typical transcript listing courses and grades. (We don’t get into this in the Kickstarter video because the Blockchain is still a new technology, but this is a really compelling piece of our offering.) With Teachur, students would have a public record that details their level of mastery on each specific degree objective. So, for an application to an advanced degree in this example, students would have vetted writing samples, involved academic relationships with professors, and very robust documentation of their mastery level. Thanks again for your enthusiasm!

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41 Donya Kesler February 1, 2016 at 9:03 pm

When you are ready for students – I would love to sign up. We just returned from 17 years on the mission field in Brazil. I married while in college and didn’t finish, thirty-one years and four children later I would love to be able to finish my degree.

Do you have a list for prospective students? Please add my name to it!

Donya Kesler

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42 Design Mom February 2, 2016 at 10:39 am

Awesome! Thank you, Donya. Woo hoo!

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43 marcie February 1, 2016 at 9:14 pm

I love this idea!! We just finished sending our only child to a major school and paying cash ( no student loans) and for sorority and apartments, etc. and I would love to explore something for myself… maybe a later life career change … but there is no way to justify the expense of traditional college path and the years left to work in a new field plus keeping her from having student loans was far more expensive than anticipated. This is really fascinating!

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44 Tina Z February 1, 2016 at 9:59 pm

This sounds intriguing, though I have several questions about its viability as a fully accredited degree granting institution. Disclosure: I’m a university professor. First, I wonder who will shape discipline specific outcomes and how they would be compensated for that work? As crass as some might view this question, Teachur seems to reject the notion that professors (not just the people who teach but also the people who create knowledge) should earn a living wage. But it’s not clear if that’s the case so correct me if I’m wrong. I also have concerns that many students would not be able to make necessary connections to arrange internships or other experiential learning opportunities essential in many fields. And if you are planning to guide them in some way, who would do that work within specific disciplines? Again, this goes back to whether you would hire experts to assist in that process. Finally, how are you going to handle student access to library services like journal subscriptions and inter library loan? Not all knowledge is digital and much of it is still unfortunately costly. Good luck.

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45 Ben Blair February 2, 2016 at 1:44 am

Thanks for your interest, and engagement on this, Tina! I have lots of questions about the viability of this too! Probably even more than you… But to respond to your specific questions: We will first align our programs to respected accredited programs in the U.S. (e.g. UCLA, UT Austin, etc.) and hire a team of professors to ensure that each program (i.e. objectives and assessments) reflects expectations of these accredited programs. Since we are only offering objectives and assessments, this is scaled back from what is typically involved in building a program.

We are not far enough down the road on this venture to speak from experience, but we definitely anticipate a market for people who create knowledge–think: as new significant discoveries in the field are made, our program is updated, new books are required in our program in order to master the requisite knowledge… This isn’t the target message of this Kickstarter, but providing a forum for professors and other experts in the field to gain a ready audience outside their current setting, classroom and school is part of what we wanted to build before we ever considered discounted degrees.

For your questions about guides, briefly, yes, we would offer discipline-specific guides that students could hire to assist in the types of opportunities you outline. Though I would also flip the question and say that our target market and model on this kickstarter is not the current undergrad student that is well-served by the current system, but rather the student that is priced out or otherwise not well-served by this system. For example, someone who is already in something like an internship, or experiential learning setting but isn’t pursuing a degree, and with a little bit of structure like a series of steps we outline to guide her learning, she can demonstrate mastery of degree objectives and earn a degree, where it might never have crossed her radar before.

And great question about library services. This would depend on the degree, but it could be that the student works with a discipline-specific guide, it could be she purchases a guest pass at an academic library if needed, and while certainly not all knowledge is digital yet, most of what an undergraduate student would need is, and the trend is toward more and more digitization. Of course, we just launched the Kickstarter today, we don’t have data on how this would work for lots of students enrolled, but we feel like the current model of university pricing and the burden of student debt is unjustifiable. As much as anything else, we want to see if there is an interest in this model before we surrender our lives to it… Thanks again!

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46 Shannon February 2, 2016 at 9:04 am

It’s such an interesting idea, but it does seem like the “Get a Degree for $1000″ is misleading. It sounds more like “Get a Degree for $1000 – plus more for actual learning resources!!” Sort of the Spirit Airlines model of upselling?

Don’t get me wrong – sounds like it could be incredibly disruptive – but as a marketer the initial bait and switch is tough to swallow. Can you provide a rough idea of what an actual degree would cost with all these (probably necessary) add-ons?

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47 Ben Blair February 2, 2016 at 4:52 pm

You bring up good points, Shannon, and to jump to your last question, I’m afraid it’s difficult to guess what a degree would cost for people who need additional structure, support or guidance. I think there would be a good-sized portion of people for whom the cost for a degree on Teachur would not go above $1000.

Your first question about whether this is an ‘upselling’ model is interesting, and it highlights a key difference between Teachur and traditional models. (And I should say, that’s definitely not a significant part of our business model.) In a traditional school, we have the opposite problem: people who vary widely on what resources they need to master objectives of a course or degree but they all share the same, or near the same experience (and for lots of money…) I know it may appear to be upselling, but one of the points of the video is that most of the information one needs for a degree is available for free, and you can easily find it if you know what you’re looking for. So, we anticipate that a lot of the learning resources would be free, and while I’m sure some people will want to get additional support and guidance (tutors, etc.), others may not. So one profile that would benefit from Teachur would be someone who is confident at finding information online or wherever for free–but I wouldn’t say this is our primary target market. Another profile would be someone who has mastered all, or most of the material through work or life experience, but just never went through the process of earning a degree–this person wouldn’t need much if any outside tutor-support. Another profile would be someone who, for whatever reason, the traditional model doesn’t work (cost, convenience, etc.) and this person needs some extra guidance or support, and they can get it as they need. Teachur offers a good path for all these.

As we have shared Teachur (we’re only one day from launching a Kickstarter(!)), there seem to be a lot of people in these last two boats who have expressed what a benefit something like this would be for them. At any rate, we’ll see how people respond. Thanks again for your questions!

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48 Hillary February 2, 2016 at 12:48 am

While I agree that college degrees are insanely expensive (and that needs to change!), I have to wonder about the role of professors. Are they just designing courses and grading assessments? Both my husband and I are getting our PhDs right now with the goal of going into academia—and my father is a professor—and there is so much more that professors do for students that I feel like students would miss out with this program. Besides what goes on in the classroom, what about mentoring? Writing recommendation letters? TAing/RAing? Those kinds of opportunities can make such a difference. Also, I agree with the commenter above—how will teachers be paid decently if the degrees are so cheap?

Furthermore, I find that students can learn a great deal from their classmates. Many of my college classes were seminars, so it was based a lot on discussion. Plus, there is the need to learn how to collaborate well. It’s difficult to see how this would be possible online.

I hate to sound so negative, because I can definitely see the benefit of this kind of system for some people! And it’s true, traditional academia isn’t for everybody. I guess I am just coming at it from the perspective of an aspiring professor/current student, so I’m invested in the traditional university system in a different (and perhaps more intense) way than other people might be.

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49 Ben Blair February 2, 2016 at 2:00 am

Great insights and questions, Hillary! And just to be clear, we’re not imagining we’re replacing professors. And we know that this program would not work for everyone. For many people (me included!) an education at a traditional university with all the institutional resources and opportunities that provided was a great fit. We know that many people will likely want more structure and guidance than a learning path and suitable assessments, and we can point them to additional resources if needed, or tell them that a traditional university is a better fit. But the issue we are trying to address is that the current model does not fit everyone either, and there is a sizable population that is left out or left in a lot of debt.

It’s too late for me to respond well to your other questions, but I’ll do what I can to respond to those tomorrow. Thanks so much for engaging on this!

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50 Design Mom February 2, 2016 at 10:44 am

Another thought, Hillary, that might help show the possible relationship of Teachur to current universities: Teachur isn’t looking to take away your students. Teachur is looking to provide opportunities to people who can’t or won’t enroll (for so many different reasons) in a traditional university. The idea is to expand the amount of people who can now access a college education (versus steal current students away from traditional universities).

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51 Ben Blair February 4, 2016 at 2:15 pm

Another way to talk about how Teachur could impact professors is like this: Teachur wants to free education from the institutionalization of learning and encourage innovation in every aspect of education, and recognize and compensate quality contributions. When we say ‘free education’ we use ‘free’ as a verb. In other words, Teachur is designed to liberate education from the bounds of the institutions that have defined the work of educators, but at the same time have tightly constrained that work. The reality is that the role of professors is changing. Teachur offers a platform for professors to shine in a thousand ways not limited by their campus policies or location. Through Teachur, professors can spend more time mentoring, interviewing, and engaging in dialogue with students. They can help students personalize education in ways that haven’t been possible before. They can expand their reach beyond whatever their current teaching load is, or beyond the same class they teach year after year. Teachur offers a platform for professors to build novel, significant objectives, based on their most recent research, or make compelling instructional materials for specific objectives that can’t be found anywhere else. Teachur deeply values the expertise professors can bring to their disciplines, and opens straightforward markets to leverage this in ways professors never considered because of institutional constraints.

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52 questioner February 20, 2016 at 3:12 pm

Can you talk more concretely about how Teachur would allow professors “to shine in a thousand ways not limited by campus policies or location”? Will you be employing professors full-time, or simply hiring those who already have jobs elsewhere to consult on disciplinary norms and expectations? Your comments above (“They can expand their reach beyond whatever their current teaching load is..”) suggest that maybe you’ll hire teachers who already have jobs to work on Teachur in their after hours, but I’m not sure I’m following this correctly; perhaps you’ll be hiring professors away from what you characterize as repetitive gigs to give them something comparable?

If you do hire professors, will you pay them comparably to what they’d earn at whatever UT Austin and UCLA, to name the two “peer institutions” you’ve named several places? Will professors receive money to support their research? Benefits? Or will Teachur follow the model of so many other online education venues, which often involve hiring part-time labor, with no benefits, to work at low wages with high returns for the folks in charge?

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53 Patty February 2, 2016 at 6:15 am

So this is another “for profit” college model, correct?

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54 Design Mom February 2, 2016 at 10:51 am

You mean versus the European model of free universities paid for by the government?

From what I understand, the answer would be no, the government will not be funding Teachur. And yes, assuming it grows, Teachur will need to make money to pay for its curriculum creators, assessors and other employees (like a tech staff).

Two thoughts: 1) I know there is currently a government proposal that would make community college free in the U.S.. I’m supportive of that proposal, and if a service like Teachur was included at some point, I think that would be awesome.

2) In the current for-profit model of a traditional university, students end up paying student loan companies for decades after they’ve left the university. If we could eliminate that fact (possibly through new and disruptive technologies like Teachur) I think that’s a massive improvement to the current system.

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55 Patty February 2, 2016 at 11:10 am

Sorry – should have asked if it was going to to be an EMO or another type of profit seeking business. Thanks!

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56 J February 2, 2016 at 2:24 pm

Aren’t most universities considered “non-profit” institutions? They do cost money to attend, but technically they are not out to make a profit for shareholders, etc. Schools like Kaplan, Thunderbird or ITT Institute, etc. are “for-profit” schools and tend to get less respect for their degrees. So, student loans really don’t have much to do with whether a school is non-profit or for-profit, except that for-profit schools seem to cost more for less value.

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57 Design Mom February 2, 2016 at 8:56 pm

J, are both public and private institutions considered non-profit in the same way? I don’t know. Now I’m curious. Off to look it up. Also, I brought up student loan companies because whether or not the university profits from a student, other for-profit industries are built on students in the current system.

Patty, I just looked up EMO because I’m not familiar with the term, but can’t seem to see a definition related to our conversation. That said, Teachur as it stands now, would be for-profit, though if it takes off and is competitive with other traditional learning institutions (I have no idea if that will happen), then I assume it would have the same status as those institutions — whatever that status may be.

58 Meredith February 2, 2016 at 11:50 pm

Read up on University of Phoenix . 4 years ago my husband left after 9 years as a software engineer and architect for U of Phoenix. He designed student enrollment software which was essentially sales software. Students were numbers and dollar figures. Not humans with goals. These students were often poorly served by traditional college and were “sold” the idea of a U of P degree. Most couldn’t pay for this and require very expensive loans. and often quit and defaulted on these loans. Others graduated with often worthless degrees with mountains of debt. Mind you, at one point, 90% of student tuition was paid for with federal student loans, making shareholders and executives very wealthy in the process. Employees had profit share opportunities and stock options to purchase.

THIS is the for profit model referred to. And it’s a disaster and blowing up all over the place. Federal regulation has tightened up. Students srr fighting back. And for profit universities are crumbling. The online model was innovative 10-12 years ago with a handful of institutions, U of P being a pioneer. But as more and more institutions popped up and traditional campuses developed online programs, the market became saturated.

So glad we are as far away from that industry as possible now.

I don’t think what you are doing is the same.

59 Ben Blair February 3, 2016 at 12:15 pm

Good questions, Patty! While Teachur is a for-profit company, we believe a free market is a good solution to the problems of expensive costs to higher ed, and the corollary of massive student debt. The for-profit schools most people are familiar with are based on a student loan revenue model. The problem with these is that they exacerbate rather than address the problems. In light of these twin problems, what should trouble us is not which of several models is used, but what are the most effective means to address the problems. We believe Teachur is perfectly suited to address the problems of exorbitant cost and massive debt. Currently, most all the other available models of higher ed (regardless of institutional structure) are built on gouging students, and the biggest beneficiaries are banks. We are hoping to offer an alternative.

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60 Robin February 2, 2016 at 6:26 am

I love any idea that is higher education reform! My daughter is only 1 so I have a ways to go but my question (maybe I missed it) is – is it a real degree? Accredited? I’ve been on the hiring side of things and everyone quietly snubs ‘not real colleges’ listed on resumes… at least in my work environment. Maybe poo poo to them, but it is a real consideration.

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61 Design Mom February 2, 2016 at 9:02 pm

Yes, for sure. Teachur is working on accreditation.

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62 Jeannin e February 2, 2016 at 6:27 am

“And the thing is, the increase in price hasn’t made the curriculum and teaching significantly better.”

Citation? Doesn’t it cost more to educate students in every discipline today? Even a student studying the Classics is doing it in a way that involves technology and resources that weren’t available even 15 years ago. What’s more, aren’t students today educated across programs at many schools? Today’s model seems light years ahead of the days when we all sat in academic silos.

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63 Design Mom February 2, 2016 at 10:54 am

Ben Blair and Josh may have other citations, but I know in the 2015 NY Times article about higher education costs it says:

“Interestingly, increased spending has not been going into the pockets of the typical professor. Salaries of full-time faculty members are, on average, barely higher than they were in 1970. Moreover, while 45 years ago 78 percent of college and university professors were full time, today half of postsecondary faculty members are lower-paid part-time employees, meaning that the average salaries of the people who do the teaching in American higher education are actually quite a bit lower than they were in 1970.”

So the idea that the current higher tuition costs are improving curriculum and teaching doesn’t make sense to me.

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64 Jeannin e February 2, 2016 at 9:30 pm

You don’t assess curriculum by looking at faculty compensation. You look at outcomes like research, student success, scholarly publications, and more.

Of course the faculty isn’t taking home all the money from increased tuition. The plant, property, and equipment (technology) part of the balance sheets of today couldn’t even be imagined in the 70s.

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65 Design Mom February 2, 2016 at 10:01 pm

Jeannine, based on your comments, I gather you think the current tuition prices reflect the current value of a college education. But I disagree.

It is well known that the costs of tuition are rising incredibly fast. Many people can no longer afford tuition at all, and many others can only afford it with student loans. This Forbes article talks about how fast tuition is rising, and also reports our nation has more student loan debt than credit card debt.

You may feel that the increased costs are all going to a better education. But I don’t think that’s a given. According to the NY Times, “a major factor driving increasing costs is the constant expansion of university administration. According to the Department of Education data, administrative positions at colleges and universities grew by 60 percent between 1993 and 2009, which Bloomberg reported was 10 times the rate of growth of tenured faculty positions.

Even more strikingly, an analysis by a professor at California Polytechnic University, Pomona, found that, while the total number of full-time faculty members in the C.S.U. system grew from 11,614 to 12,019 between 1975 and 2008, the total number of administrators grew from 3,800 to 12,183 — a 221 percent increase.”

As I said in my post, I know the current system is working well for many people, and I don’t claim to say Teachur will work for everyone. Teachur may get funded and grow. Or it may not. But either way, exploring other options beyond our current system is a valuable thing in my opinion.

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66 J February 2, 2016 at 7:30 am

This is a very interesting concept. Having taught at several universities as an adjunct professor, I know how hard it can be for some students to be successful in the current system. My main concern with this model is how students will learn how to write and produce new knowledge on topics. It seems that your model will teach them how to glean knowledge and regurgitate it on exams, but how will you incorporate research and writing projects into the curriculum? As an instructor, I know how much time I spent meeting with and coaching students on their projects, reading drafts of their writing and then the hours spent grading their papers. At only $1000 per student, I don’t see how you could pay enough professors to grade all those papers. Beyond just “assessments,” what products will the students be expected to provide? Being able to check off the correct answers on a multiple choice test is very different than being able to coherently explain and argue a position, develop connections and add new ideas to a topic. Although the students might come away with a degree, I would question the quality of it and worry that employers and graduate schools would discount its relevance and validity. But, perhaps that is the whole point of disruption–providing a product that the mainstream wouldn’t even want to bother with, but is just enough quality for some. I really like that you are re-thinking the educational system and look forward to seeing how this venture goes.

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67 Blythe February 2, 2016 at 9:28 am

J, I have very similar concerns. As a high school English teacher and adjunct professor, I completely agree: the writing process is such an integral part of learning. I have used grading software before and while it may pick up on stylistic or usage issues, or even “read” for content, it is unable to get nuance, tone, etc. As a teacher, the time I spend with students on outlining, drafts, revisions, etc… and then the in-class discussions we have and the emails we exchange go even further in aiding their understanding of a concept. I am a little wary of how this program will teach critical thinking or how to refine one’s thought and work process. Ben and Josh, kudos for addressing a very real need–secondary education accessibility. Please consider this feedback as kindly meant :)

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68 Ben Blair February 4, 2016 at 2:21 pm

Thanks for your comments and questions, J and Blythe. I had your questions in mind in my response to Annie’s related question above. In response to your question about critical thinking, Our view is that everything you learn can be broken down into objectives, even things like critical thinking, and collaborative work. With Teachur, students will still turn in drafts of papers and get feedback on each draft. They will still discuss and demonstrate mastery over degree objectives with a live professor. We’re making it so that the approaches and schedules and costs for learning these skills are freed up like they haven’t been before.

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69 Lana February 2, 2016 at 8:21 am

GENIUS!!!! This makes so much sense to me. I will be watching, waiting, supporting, etc.

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70 Design Mom February 2, 2016 at 10:55 am

Thank you, Lana! I love the enthusiasm.

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71 Deanna February 2, 2016 at 10:07 am

What are the initial degrees to be offered?

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72 Ben Blair February 4, 2016 at 2:22 pm

You can help influence that! Our first degrees are based on popular degrees in the United States. Our first ten degrees slated are: History, Graphic Arts, Psychology, Business Administration, Philosophy, Accounting, Economics, English Language and Literature, Liberal Arts and Sciences, and Biology. But in this early phase, we are still open to suggestions…

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73 Tasha February 6, 2016 at 4:12 pm

For those skeptical, I’m thinking imagine even getting a two-year degree and then deciding to formally enter a campus university would be tremendous. It may help direct future decisions as to where to go, what to study, etc. It is ridiculous the amount we are paying to send our children off for liberal arts. Many students choose local community colleges to defray cost and the ‘experience” is not a genuine one at least to the fullest degree. Imagine being afforded the opportunity to earn a degree while travelling or accepting a job in a new place – living life and growing at the same time. Wonderful!

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74 Meggles February 2, 2016 at 11:23 am

This sounds incredible. Absolutely amazing. It depresses me to no end thinking about how college has become the domain of the rich because of its insane cost. I really hope this takes off…and I don’t think this is too grandiose to say, but this could lift so many people out of generational poverty. It won’t end up being a useless degree like the online for-profit ones, right? That’s my big fear with this.

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75 Design Mom February 2, 2016 at 8:50 pm

Thank you so much for the feedback, Meggles! So glad you think it sounds incredible (I fully agree!). Feel free to share it with anyone who you think might be interested.

As for your last question, the degrees have to be useful and relevant or this won’t work at all.

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76 Katey // Girls in the Park February 2, 2016 at 12:32 pm

This is absolutely amazing! I teach seniors in high school and while most of my advanced students are excited about attending a traditional university, there is a good number of kids who already know that isn’t for them (finances, lifestyle, learning style, etc.) and Teachur seems like such a good fit. No, it isn’t for everyone. But like many of the comments before mentioned, this could be game-changing for those nontraditional students – particularly those who are low-income. As a teacher and a parent I am so supportive of this program and sincerely hope that it succeeds. More power to the both of you, Ben and Josh, for recognizing a societal need and actually taking action! I am going to use your program as an example in my class as an awesome idea, but also the two of you as models for engaged, active participants in life. So, so inspiring! I wish you the best:)

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77 Design Mom February 2, 2016 at 8:52 pm

“there is a good number of kids who already know that isn’t for them ”

Thank you for this helpful feedback, Katey! And thank you for the support. It means so much — especially knowing you’re a teacher. Thanks in advance for sharing this with anyone you think might be interested.

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78 Rebecca February 2, 2016 at 6:51 pm

I’m curious what you mean by Teachur partnering with schools like UCLA and UT-Austin. Like shared professors, credit transfers…?

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79 Design Mom February 2, 2016 at 9:20 pm

Hi Rebecca. I think you’re referring to this comment from Ben:

“We will first align our programs to respected accredited programs in the U.S. (e.g. UCLA, UT Austin, etc.)”

I know he’ll jump in when he has a second, because he knows much more about Objectives and Alignments, but in the meantime, I’ll do my best. What this means is that as Teachur hires curriculum builders, and those builders develop Objectives for each degree, those objectives will be compared to and aligned with Objectives for similar degrees at established, accredited universities.

A similar thing happens whenever someone starts a public elementary school or charter school. Each state has their own set of curriculum Objectives, and any new school must align their curriculum with the state standards, otherwise, they are not considered legitimate.

The curriculum that Teachur has developed so far has all been aligned to degree Objectives at top schools. Assuming Teachur is funded and grows, it will take a couple of years to get accreditation. But aligning to already accredited programs should help make the accreditation process as efficient as possible.

But what about those students who don’t want to wait two years to get an accredited degree? Well, one idea is that Teachur can partner with existing accredited universities, so that degrees can be granted while waiting on the accreditation process.

What would that look like exactly? Not sure yet. Teachur just launched yesterday. It’s a tiny infant as far as companies go, and it’s not ready to accept students this week. Of course, partnership talks are in their infancy too.

But the whole thing is so very exciting! So much potential for students who don’t thrive in the current system, or can’t even access a university education at the moment.

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80 Cynthia February 2, 2016 at 9:15 pm

Good luck and I’ll be the first to congratulate the gentlemen if this flies. But on the first read it sounds like Josh and Ben are smokin’ somethin’ funny. I also think Collage would have been a funnier name.

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81 Gigi February 2, 2016 at 10:11 pm

Thus is quite an intriguing idea. But accreditation from DEAC would essentially mean the bachelors is worthless in many public university systems, specifically in CA. You could not go in to a graduate degree. Your “credits” would be worthless.
I’m not saying this idea doesn’t have a place in education. But I would hope potential students would be aware of limitations of the degrees. An evaluator at any college would laugh at a transcript from this organization.

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82 Ben Blair February 3, 2016 at 3:32 pm

Assessments tied to the Blockchain is the more compelling response to the accreditation question. This is a key differentiator for Teachur. Accreditation is meant to vouch that a program is of a certain quality, and reliable, legitimate, etc. But in the U.S. at least, when students go through an accredited degree program, they receive a diploma and a transcript that only gets as detailed as what courses they took, and what grades they received. But no one can even tell what you learned in those courses! Not to mention whether you have mastered anything. Our program will provide learners with a diploma, and a transcript, but uniquely, we will provide students with a secure, public, verifiable record (i.e. tied to the Blockchain) of their mastery of each specific degree objective–this is much more secure and robust evidence for a quality program than a transcript that lists courses and grades only. So, if accreditation is meant to validate that graduates of a program have gained some specifiable mastery, it is a much weaker model than ours. We don’t look at accreditation as the bar we aspire to; rather, we view our model as forging the standard that universities will ultimately adopt as more secure, meaningful, and useful student records become the norm. Meanwhile, we recognize that accreditation is the current model, and we will be working toward accreditation and work to build partnerships to hasten the timeline.

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83 Rose February 2, 2016 at 10:42 pm

Honestly, I don’t know. It takes a great deal of time and training to thoughtfully assess and provide helpful feedback on a student’s essay, presentation, etc. Who is going to put in those hours, and how can you possibly pay them adequately with this price point?

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84 questioner February 20, 2016 at 3:14 pm

I’m dying for a response to this question too!

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85 StacyShine February 3, 2016 at 10:00 am

This would be perfect for someone like me. I have an Associates degree and need a Bachelor’s degree (it doesn’t matter where it is from) to qualify for a job I have interviewed for. I honestly cannot afford the time (sitting in class learning “women’s studies”) or the tuition of a traditional university.

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86 Design Mom February 3, 2016 at 6:12 pm

Yes! Thank you for sharing this comment, Stacy. I know there are many others in your same situation and I would love to see Teachur thrive so it can fill that need. Any sharing of the link, or spreading the word is so appreciated!

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87 Marivi February 3, 2016 at 10:38 am

My Mother was one of the most cultured, well-educated persons I ever met, even though she had to drop out of college after her second year at age 17. Her college attendance stopped, but her education didn’t. She devoured books and treated every conversation as an opportunity to learn. She became a very successful journalist but always had a chip on her shoulder about not having a degree. She would have loved an option like Teachur.

Will the Blair and Stanley kids be the first Teachur graduates?

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88 Design Mom February 3, 2016 at 6:11 pm

“Her college attendance stopped, but her education didn’t.”

I know exactly what you mean and had several people in my own life come to mind when I read that. And I agree, Teachur would have been perfect for your Mother.

As for your last question, the kids are all very enthusiastic about all the Teachur conversation at our house — last night, 11 year old Oscar asked if he could be the first graduate. : ) I told him to concentrate on finishing 5th grade first.

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89 Elena February 11, 2016 at 3:36 pm

This is exciting. The cost is unreal, but I also find the model super cool. I did a masters of OT at McMaster University in Canada, and a component of our curriculum was similar – we all came from different academic backgrounds, but had to reach a certain level of proficiency in a bunch of different areas. We set our own objectives based on self-assessment and made our own plans as to how to reach them. It. Was. The best. Most of us almost didn’t get it at first… we are so used to this rigid, established way of learning… I ended up with anatomy colouring books, writing stories incorporating psych concepts, and watching a ton of youtube videos. It felt weirdly easy, but I actually did very well on the standard tests! It makes so much sense. Bravo, Ben. Brilliant, good for the world. Doesn’t get better than that.

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