How we want to learn

Some people seem to think that learning happens best when you have an authority at the front of the classroom, who deposits the truth in the minds of everyone else. This is called the ‘banking model’ of education.

We don’t support the actions of big banks, and we don’t support the ‘banking model’ of education either.

Many of us have started to wonder what education might look like if we instead started by assuming that everyone – teachers, students, everyone – shares a basic equality of intelligence.  Of course we realize that people have different levels of knowledge and skill in particular areas, and we’re not questioning that. But what if we put a bit less emphasis on that, and instead put a bit more emphasis on our common intelligence? What if it turns out that people learn best as part of a less hierarchical, more collaborative process – one that takes place between equals?

At a minimum, this would mean that everyone should have a say in how their class proceeds.  In putting together our Occupy University, we’re trying to clear a space for this sort of thinking.

Example: an Occupy University course could be a traditional lecture course, with a teacher at the front of the room, and the rest of the class listening, taking notes, and asking occasional questions.  But it could just as easily be a group of people who are all interested in the same topic, coming together in a community of learning. They would come together for weekly discussions, decide what they wanted to learn and how they wanted to learn it, and be free to move through the subject as they saw fit.  Occupy Wall Street facilitation processes can help a lot with this!

If you’re thinking of proposing a traditional lecture course, don’t let our comments here discourage you – do it!  We would love to help you offer your lecture course to people for free.

But we would especially love to help you come up with a less hierarchical way of teaching and learning – one in which the kinds of questions asked, and the kinds of responses that count as answers, are determined by all the learners. Again, we’re not enforcing any particular line on this – what it means, exactly, is up to you. But if you want our help thinking it through, you’ve got it. (In fact, this is exactly what our pilot course in Horizontal Pedagogy is all about. Click here for more information!)

If you’re as excited by these kinds of ideas as we are, then the Occupy University might just be your chance to live them through in practice!


  1. Thomas

    I’m so glad Occupy University exists. I wanted to share with you our Public Praxis course which we have taken out of the university, on a kind of exodus, to experiment with alternative forms of accreditation:

    As I see it universities are nothing more than ivy walled banks that exchange one form of credit (debt) for another (academic). We’ve proven we can educate ourselves and each other, what we need to do now is challenge the monopoly on credit that corporate universities currently hold (more here:

    Our class is just an experiment, but we’d love it if you added our class and the Art School in the Art School ( to your list of like-minded initiatives.

  2. Jay

    This project is so fantastic. I really wish I were in New York to participate. I hope this becomes one of the cornerstones of the occupy movement.

  3. Sarah

    The language-learning method discussed here: is very close to those I’ve observed to be most successful in my 45 years or so of learning-or failing to learn- foreign languages. And it’s free. It seems to be being rolled out quite slowly, so maybe similar programs could be developed by Occupy U in an open source, collaborative context.

    Another learning method I’m very impressed with is the Khan Academy’s short videos. This format would make it easy for people with various kinds of expertise to contribute from around the world.