There is a large population of people who are not a good fit for the current model of higher education. People with:
- low or no financial means,
- time restraints (such as with parents and care-givers),
- full-time and/or multiple jobs, and
- different learning styles
as well as:
- career changers,
- artists, and
- other talented people who simply want to learn about something without enrolling in a degree program.
The education industry designates individuals who don’t fit into the traditional learning model as “non-traditional students” – a group that is estimated to be approximately 73% of all adult learners 1 . (Note: Sphere uses the term “participant” instead of student). This group of people would benefit from a program that seeks to help participants identify what they most want to accomplish in life at any particular time, and support them to gain the skills to achieve it. The Sphere College Program is intended to accomplish exactly this.
Three Phases for a Multi-faceted Learning Experience
The Sphere Program proceeds in three phases, all of which include mentorship.
In Phase One, entitled “Self and Other,” participants embark upon a journey to acquire a deeper understanding of oneself in relation to the world around them, and seek to identify the direction of their future studies. The purpose of this phase is to answer the question: “What is it that I wish to accomplish at this current stage of life and why?” During this phase, a participant works with one of Sphere’s mentors to gain a deeper understanding of the “what” and the “whys” associated with their intentions and inclinations as well as the potential impact to their life. Phase One can include assessments, personal reflection through journaling and group mentoring, communication courses, exploration of great works of literature and philosophy, and key studies in the arts, sciences and humanities – all of which are related to contemporary issues and the participants’ own personal experiences.
Phase Two is “Tool Acquisition,” and involves the attainment of interdisciplinary knowledge and skills that support the implementation of the participant’s goals identified in Phase One. In this phase, mentors work with participants to create a customized curriculum that may include any or all of the following: coursework at Sphere, and other teaching institutions and organizations in the community, online learning, individual and group discussions, textbook learning, projects, and internships. During this phase, participants work toward competency in the skills identified as necessary to support their goals.
In Phase Three – the “Action” Phase of the program – participants draw upon their continually-developing knowledge to put their passion into action by taking on a project that is a good fit for them. Projects are designed by the participant and their mentor, and could include input from industry professionals. Projects can also be undertaken individually or by a group of participants, and can be personal or public in nature. The idea of Phase Three is to demonstrate the participant’s competency in a particular field or area of interest.
Upon completion of all three Phases, a student may accomplish a Sphere College Project Certificate, which is a designation of competency in their chosen area(s).
This article in the Chronicle of Higher Education from May 2011 does a good job of describing our initiative.
Moving along the Spectrum of Learning
We anticipate that as participants’ awareness grows, the activities of the phases may overlap. For example, participants may very well take on individual projects in phases one and two, continue the process of self-discovery in phases two and three, and engage in the acquisition of specific knowledge and skills in phases one and three. Movement between phases, however, will be determined by the participant’s ability to demonstrate that they are prepared for a different level of learning. The participant and mentor will explore the following questions, for example, in making this determination:
Movement from Phase 1 to 2: Do I know enough about myself and what I wish to accomplish to enable me to construct an individualized curriculum?
Movement from Phase 2 to 3: Have I gathered the necessary interdisciplinary tools to be successful with a project? Do I know what that project will be and what success will look like?
Phase 3 to Certification: Have I successfully completed my project? How do I move forward while ensuring ongoing learning?
Specific aspects of the Program will change according to the changing social and cultural environment in which the Program is being implemented.
THE SPHERE COLLEGE PROJECT IS A CERTIFICATE-GRANTING ORGANIZATION, NOT A DEGREE-GRANTING ORGANIZATION.
1 Choy, Susan. 2002. Findings from the Condition of Education 2002: Nontraditional Undergraduates. Washington, DC: National Center for Education Statistics. http://nces.ed.gov/pubs2002/2002012.pdf