Education is about Habits

The Philosophy Behind the MPC Learning Contract


Right now, you can learn more than any human in history. Hundreds of thousands of books are published every year in the U.S. alone. Libraries burgeon. The internet overflows. Much of this knowledge is crap, but a lot is actually quite good. The best thinker in almost every discipline has work for you to read, for free. With a library card and a laptop, you can get a first-class education.

Ask yourself: If all this content is free, why is the whole world not a lifelong learner? Why isn’t everyone sitting around watching Coursera lectures all the time?

Because education isn’t about content. It’s about habits.

A reasonably intelligent person can pick up most subjects. People are amazed at Elon Musk’s self-tutoring in rocket science. But he just did what smart people do when they need to learn something.

Step 1: He bought the best books, studied them, and surrounded himself with smart people who knew more than he did.

Step 2: He aligned his professional goals as an entrepreneur (CEO of SpaceX) with his need to learn rocket science. He refined his book learning in the fires of experience.

Don’t sell yourself short, says Musk.

Why does Musk seem like a genius? Because most people just don’t have his mentality of a professional or his habits as a lifelong learner.

Knowledge is cheap as dirt. Habits are super expensive.

Why? Because they’re psychological and personal. It’s harder to get them than it is to buy a bunch of books and say “here’s a lump of knowledge, enjoy.”

Professional, Lifelong Learner

Should I learn or should I work? Am I a ‘professional’ or am I a ‘scholar’? Many struggle with these questions at the start of their career and life.

Most schools force you to make a choice: you’re either an academic that learns or a professional that works.

This ‘choice’ is an illusion.

To be a great professional you need to be learning all the time. To be a great learner you have to be out in the world actually doing real stuff. Great education makes you a skilled professional, but a professional attitude about your work will get you a great education.

The MPC’s Learning Contract bridges the gap. You can unify both sides of life by contracting professional experiences alongside books, or seminars, or lectures.

Habits Happen

Most schools don’t talk much about habits, except for the dubious advice “study hard” and empty platitudes like “Do your best!”

All educational environments encourage certain habits, whether they acknowledge it or not.

Here are some habits of the traditional classroom:

  1. Sit down and be quiet.
  2. Make stuff no one wants or reads.
  3. Talk. Don’t do.
  4. Stay in the classroom where it’s safe.
  5. Bullshit. Because it makes you sound smart.
  6. Waste time.
  7. Wait till you’re older.
  8. Wait till you’re qualified.
  9. Wait for permission.

Students are passive. Their assignments are to “get a grade” or “demonstrate learning” rather than to create publishable work or a valuable contribution to the world. Traditional education is a hierarchy built on credentials. You know less than so-and-so because they have a PhD. You can’t have an opinion unless you, too, jump through the hoops necessary to get that title.

Implicit in the design of traditional education is the lesson: You’re too young, too unprepared, too unqualified, and too stupid to have real opinions, to be out in the real world, or to do real professional work.

Ouch. No wonder we don’t have more lifelong learners.

The Learning Contract offers MPCers the chance to develop opposite habits:

  1. Honestly evaluate goals over a several month time span. Stick to them and be held accountable for it.
  2. Figure out creative ways to follow through with those goals.
  3. Budget money to achieve those goals.
  4. Set up courses that encourage constant practice, or you won’t be skilled enough to achieve your final project.
  5. When you want to learn something new, don’t wait for people to teach it to you. Be bold, use your strategies and mentality to say, “Ok, I know that to learn something new, all I have to do is expose myself to the knowledge and practice it. And all that takes is some willpower and discipline and structured thinking. I can do that!”
  6. Search for others with shared interests to collaborate.
  7. Don’t wait for permission. Don’t worry about titles. Don’t wait till you’re older. Don’t play it safe.
  8. The world is more enriching than the classroom.
  9. Doing stuff is as important as thinking or saying stuff (and probably even more so).
  10. Learning is as much about overcoming bad emotional habits as it is about reading or writing (i.e. your Milestone Challenge).

The Learning Contract isn’t just for your transcript. It’s a tool to improve habits.

The Two Mentalities

Ultimately, the Learning Contract is about adopting a growth mindset, the opposite of traditional education’s fixed mindset.

Someone with a growth mindset treats intelligence, skills, talents, abilities as changeable. You can grow, you can learn. It just takes some time and dedication.

Someone with a fixed mindset regards their abilities as fixed. A fixed mindset is toxic because it’s static. Someone whose abilities are fixed is unwilling to be wrong or change their mind because being wrong threatens their identity as a “smart” or “skilled” person.

Someone with a growth mindset knows that the quest for knowledge is a constant struggle and a process. They look at their talents and intelligence and say, “Ok, I don’t know this yet. I don’t understand it yet. But it’s perfectly possible for me to understand it if I just go and do the work.”

The perils of traditional education is that the higher you climb (the more prestigious your title, the more renown your expertise), the stronger the pressure there is to adopt a fixed mindset and the harder it is to shamelessly admit: “Sorry guys! I was wrong. But I learned more and changed my mind.” Yet this is precisely what the lifelong learner and the innovative professional must always do.

The growth mindset is the greatest credential you can have. The best way to cultivate it by growing new habits.

What’s the Point?

The goal of the Learning Contract is to think of your life beyond the MPC from day one. Don’t end up like the millions of college grads that study for years, graduate, and then return to their childhood bedroom with no direction wondering, “Now what?”

What kind of professional life do I want? What kinds of things do I want to do? Your Learning Contract is limitless. Don’t wait till after graduation. Just start doing the things you want now.

Start and structure your contract so that it enhances those professional aspirations while giving you the knowledge and skills you need to reach them. We want you to be well prepared to go off and do whatever it is that you’re going to do.

Go wild. We have long semesters. This means you can put all sorts of wild stuff in the contract. You can travel, you can do experiential things. You can bundle different kinds of courses into one mega-course that ties together multiple threads. Don’t just recreate a traditional college experience. Join up with other students and you can pool your money and goals to make something even cooler.

The quote we use to organize the MPC is, “All the world is my school, and all humanity is my teacher.” That’s really what we’re trying to make operational: that you could go almost anywhere and work with anyone on almost anything and it will work as far as the MPC is concerned.

So where does the program come in? The MPC doesn’t tell you what to do, but pushes a high standard. Whatever it is that you do, it better be real, rigorous, and challenging. We’re just not going to approve a contract that looks like you’re babying yourself.

The MPC can easily be the most rigorous, most interesting, and most creative program at UFM and even beyond. The best way we have to build a reputation is to reject people who aren’t serious about the program and to enforce extremely rigorous contracts. We’re doing both.

Our job at the MPC is to push that standard up. When someone sees an MPC graduate we want them to say: “I want to work with this person because they went through a program which pushed them hard and developed them into competent and focused people with good habits.”

We want you to be in-demand by grad schools and businesses and other people who can help you on your way. Pursuing your independent path, boldly and professionally, is the road to a fun and successful life. The first step is to face our habits.

Show your support

Clapping shows how much you appreciated Zach C’s story.