Chris Do on the Future of Higher Ed Learning


Last month I had the chance to talk about all things higher ed with Chris Do. Chris is an Emmy award-winning designer, director, and the founder of The Futur—an online education platform with the mission of teaching 1 billion people how to make a living doing what they love. With a career spanning over two decades, Chris Do has established himself as a leading authority in design, branding, and education. And as an advocate for change in art and design education, Chris actively explores the transformation of art and design schools within universities.

Watch the Conversation


Listen to the Conversation


Summary of the Conversation

Chris Do, the founder of The Futur, noticed a pattern in his 15+ years of teaching at private art schools - the repetition of the same material every semester. He realized that lectures should be recorded and consumed at home, while the time in class should be spent on hands-on work. This eases the burden of teaching and allows for the best teachers in the world to record lectures, while passionate facilitators can work with students in class. This simple change can have a profound effect on design education. Chris is inspired by the vision of helping 1 billion students do what they love. The idea is to pool resources and find the best teachers in the world to record lectures, and have passionate teachers facilitate in-class activities. The goal is to not be limited by geographic location or availability. While some things may be lost in a recorded lecture, multiple camera angles can be used to capture the energy and different vantage points of the professor. Additionally, filming lectures allows for students to re-watch and absorb information at their own pace. Chris suggests filming lectures with a live studio audience of carefully selected students to represent the larger mass of students. This would allow for questions and challenges to be raised, creating a near-perfect learning experience.

Chris discusses his teaching style, which involves a Socratic approach of asking questions and allowing students to find answers. They acknowledge that this approach can be uncomfortable for some students, but believe it leads to a more meaningful learning experience.

They also discuss the importance of uncomfortable moments for growth and suggest that faculty may need training to create a safe environment for this type of learning. To create a safe environment for growth, faculty members should learn about nonviolent communication, facilitation, and the Socratic approach. These skills can help remove judgment from difficult conversations and encourage curiosity and cognitive engagement from students.

The Futur has a unique model for compensating its teachers. They record the courses and pay the teachers a 20% royalty for the rest of their lives, including their children's lives. This incentivizes the teachers to invest in themselves and their teaching methods, which benefits the university, the teachers, and the students. The model also encourages accountability and ensures that the teachers are practitioners in their respective fields. Design education needs to evolve to support up-and-coming creative professionals. Universities should consider extending licensing or royalties to guest lecturers who create content that can be embedded in the curriculum.

Traditional schools and brick-and-mortar universities have many liabilities, and the pandemic has forced them to re-evaluate their assets. To optimize the use of space and resources, universities should consider creating communal spaces for learning and providing shared equipment and resources for students and teachers to use. This can include a theater for watching highly produced educational videos and workspace labs for equipment like rapid prototyping machines and high-resolution 3-D scanners. By doing so, universities can attract and build a sense of belonging among students and faculty, and create a more idealized hybrid learning environment that balances online and on-campus education.

Universities should move most lectures online and reserve in-person experiences for feedback, community building, and brainstorming. Campuses would be smaller, saving on overhead costs and allowing for better teacher pay and lower tuition. Asynchronous learning would benefit those with budgetary or time constraints, as well as those geographically challenged.

The Futur's goal is to prove its value until it can no longer be dismissed. They do not plan to become an accredited university as it would mean living up to someone else's standards. Career outcomes are important to the program, and they believe that all programs should be accountable for the promise they make. While universities promise a great educational experience, The Futur aims to bridge the gap between education and professional success through its community program.


Grow Your Enrollment


Full Transcript

Ian Evenstar: Tell us a little bit about your approach to design education through The Futur.

Chris Do: I just want to give some context for everyone who's listening. I had taught at private art schools for 15 plus years at both Art Center College of Design and Otis College of Design and have lectured all over the place. I started to notice a pattern, and it's not going to be a news flash for anybody who's in education. One is that if you've been teaching for any period of time, it does get a little repetitive. You are essentially doing the same material, the same curriculum every single semester over and over again. And so whenever you do something often in repetition, you start to think, how can I optimize this? What can I do to make this more impactful? I wanna show up for the students, not necessarily to give the lecture and the assignments again. And so naturally my brain starts to get going, thinking we have this powerful platform, and video and distribution is practically free. Why not use some of this? And during my research and thinking, I came upon a couple of different videos and thought leaders who are ready to challenge the way things are and have seemingly come to the exact same conclusion. So Ken Robinson talks about it, Seth Godin talks about it, Mitra talks about it, and it’s that we should do homework in class. And what we should then is lectures at home and it just takes the entire model and flips it upside down. So the parts that can be recorded and edited and fine-tuned and refined should be recorded for students to consume at home.

The time in which they really need your help is when they're actually getting their hands on and doing the work itself. And that time, unfortunately, now is taken up from doing the stuff that can be recorded and shared. So that's a simple change, but it can have a profound effect. This also eases the burden of who is going to teach.

I've often thought about this concept. How many great design teachers are there? How many great teachers are there in the world to teach very specific subjects, philosophy, typography, design, marketing, and sales? There are probably a handful. The ones who know what they're doing, who are dynamic teachers, and who know how to teach are very few. So why not pool our resources and find the best teachers in the world, have them record that part, and have the people who are super passionate about teaching, but maybe not at that same level, who love to work with students who are great facilitators, great listeners, and very supportive in the way that they bring the energy and create safe space to explore. Why not have them be the teachers that seem to be the best of all possible combinations?

IE: So thinking about, senior administration that is designing the curriculum or looking at the different classes offered within the program, are you suggesting that they encourage faculty members to bring in guest lecturers? I heard also that you're suggesting to quote-unquote flip the classroom, do homework in class, or do the assignments or activities in class, and then the lecture at home. Are you also advocating that they lean on guest lecturers on a more frequent basis?

CD: In a utopian ideal society, what I'd like to do is have all the universities within any country or state, pool their resources and say, who is the best person to teach this and not be limited by geographic location or availability produce the ideal recording of a lecture or multiple lectures, and then be able to distribute that across all the schools that share are shared within that network, and then have the teachers who are in a class not have to deal with that on an ongoing basis.

IE: And do you think anything is lost in the lecture if we were to move lectures to an out-of-classroom environment? Do you think anything is lost in that moment? Because I feel like there's research that says a student actually learns quite a bit like in the presence of a lecturer. And some people actually learn effectively. When the lecture or the presentation is actually there in front of them.

CD: I think some things are lost, but what we have to do is measure what is gained versus what is lost and make the best decision for our students. Now, typically what happens is if you think about a recording of a lecture, you think of a single camera and you think of a talking head. In that instance, I would say you lose a lot because you lose a lot of the energy of the professor, and their ability to walk around or to get different vantage points. But this is where my background in making commercials and music videos and working in television comes in where you can have 5, 6, or 10 cameras if you wish. Have multiple points of view. So you can have the overhead, the behind-the-back. You can have close-up shots. You can have wide shots. And so every student is now presented with the very best seat in the classroom. And there are ideal seats. They're usually upfront and in the middle. So already the people who are participating in a live classroom, who sit in the back or in a noisier area, don't have that ability to have the best seat. And here's another thing that I think we get where we focus on the gain and not the loss. How many times have you sat in a class before when somebody says something profound and you just love the way it was phrased, and you're drastically just trying to frantically write the note down and now you're missing the next part? You don't fully capture what was said and you have zero ability to go back and re-listen to that. Now, we know this. Not everybody learns the same way. Not everyone learns at the same pace. When my kids watch videos or when my wife watches a video, they watch it two to three times the speed. I do not know how they do that. I watch at one-X and I pause periodically because I need to process and absorb. Imagine if you could stand up in class when the professor's giving a lecture, talking about something, giving a demo, hold on. My brain needs 10 seconds to process this, and if the professor were to stop and wait for you, So I think yes, we do lose some things, but we gain so much more.

The other thing I would be an advocate for is to film the lectures with a live studio audience of carefully selected students who are primed to ask questions, to push back to the challenge, and they can then represent the larger mass of students we're going to watch. I think the beautiful thing is when a professor lectures. They think it's super clear and everyone is absorbing the information, but I always find that when somebody says, when you send that, I think I know what that means, but can you gimme more context? And in that way, if you have say, eight to 12 students who have been cherry-picked because of the way that there are as students, that they speak up and they represent different learning styles, I think you could create something that I think would be near perfect. And you would have to go through this quite a few times, maybe shoot the lecture multiple times. So as comedians do they record multiple shows and they splice together the best parts. I think then you can create something that no professor can do in real-time as a one-shot.

IE: That's brilliant. That is really well said. I think you've laid out the risk versus the benefit nicely, and also given us a new idea here of doing a live studio audience recording. Why not in that way? Is that a limitation or what would be your critique on say, a Masterclass where maybe they're not in front of a live audience and it is canned and it's scripted and all of that? What is your critique, or maybe even another way into this question is how does, how do you see The Futur kind of innovating against those models that are out there?

CD: I can only speak to Masterclass because I've seen a few of their videos and I'm gonna be very critical here and I'll put this out there. Masterclass is known for, I think two things. One, having celebrities teach classes, and two super high production value. So the way that it looks, the way it's recorded is Hollywood level and they spend sometimes nearly a million dollars to produce one episode. And I think that's an important thing to think about. And I'll circle back to that later. But as you see in many of the promos I remember one from Frank Gehry, a world-famous architect, Frank Gehry, and he says, I've never taught a class before, and this is the first time I'm teaching. They think that is an asset. I think that's a liability. As teachers who do this on a professional level, who have dedicated their life to teaching, know that it takes years to develop your craft as a teacher to figure out what works, and what doesn't work.

So a lot of times what the Masterclass series tends to become is someone just telling you a story or reading their book to you back from memory and just sharing a bunch of anecdotes. Now, I guess if you're positioned as a Masterclass, meaning you are a master practitioner yourself, and you want to listen to other masters, then yes, that works as a master's level Ph.D. I get that, but if you're looking for a product for the masses, which is what they're trying to do, it fails terribly. I've had multiple years of subscriptions. I can't tell you how many courses I've watched because it's in the low digits, single digits here, and so that's my critique. But if we say that, now, I wanna circle back to this as maybe some of the admins and the educators that you're speaking to in your audience, they're thinking, Chris, that is a lot of work. There's a tremendous amount of production. It is true. It is expensive and it's not easy to do, but it's worthwhile to do, and think about it if you are able to nail this and you create a near-perfect course or a lecture that can be shared with your entire network of educators. How powerful is that? And the question should be, is it a worthwhile endeavor to pursue? And I think the answer is emphatically yes.

IE: One thing I've always loved about your teaching style and really appreciate and try to bring into my own classroom as a lecturer is your ability to challenge the students, and really ask tough questions of the audience. Be uncomfortable in the silence when you don't always get the answer immediately back. And the other thing is you're a master at role-playing scenarios, typically real-world scenarios, at least the ones that I've seen. And so let's talk about maybe just a little of the training that would be required of a faculty member. Do you think that senior administration should, when they're considering these alternative modes or modalities of teaching in the classroom, do you think they should be trained on how to do tough questions and maybe also roleplaying?

CD: The funny thing is I spent this weekend with a couple of educators and the climate in classrooms has changed so much from the 25-plus years ago when I was in school, that we have to be very careful about what we say, that we don't say things that trigger people, that we're very inclusive and that we create a safe learning environment. I think all that's good, but sometimes we can go a little bit overboard in trying to coddle our students into learning something. I'm gonna speak very personally here and maybe some things I'm going to say right now are going to, raise an eyebrow or to, from whoever's listening. I believe that especially in art and design, you're going to be counterculture to begin with. You're supposed to push boundaries and think outside the box and challenge norms. How do we do that in an environment that is so scared to speak or create a space where people are a little bit uncomfortable for a period of time? In the 15-plus years in which I was teaching, I never gave a critique where I made a personal attack on somebody that was part of the old guard to belittle you frighten you make you feel bad about yourself, and attack your self-esteem. I would never do that, but if the work is subpar, I'm going to speak about the work in a professional way. If the students are struggling, I need them to go through the painful process of self-discovery versus handing them a solution that then they will not know how to get back to in, in that discomfort.

I think you challenge students to find their way versus your way, and I think that's an important thing to do if we can encourage more professors and teachers that do this, I think we do something good. Now, I recently had someone who was very critical of my teaching style in a workshop that had just done. And his thing was, the first part of this was great when you were lecturing and it took too long for you to try to get the audience to come to their own conclusion. This person has a pretty fair critique in my opinion, but it's emblematic of the kind of education that they like and are used to, which is there's a professor and there's a student.

The student listens, the professor talks, and there's no questioning. The style of teaching that I have gravitated towards is more of a Socratic approach. Where you ask very poignant questions and allow the students to find the answer, but that also comes with a certain amount of risk where they don't know how to get to the answer.

Different levels of intelligence and experience and cultural differences make for a very dynamic moving thing, and you need to respond to that. So for that student, they were very uncomfortable. They felt this was not a good use of their time, but what they don't understand is for the students who tried to participate, who ultimately came to the conclusion, either in class or maybe hours or days later, they'll have a more meaningful experience that they can take with them versus trying to memorize everything that the professor has said. So I like that style of teaching to be as my friend Mo would say in the pocket and then it's a little tense. I get that, and I like that. But I think that expression, no pressure, no diamonds, and so we need some pressure.

IE: We do, yeah. And I have seen it in my own life and certainly also in my career trajectory that the growth that I've experienced happens from those uncomfortable moments, those uncomfortable environments. I can think back to just first learning how to use the pen tool in Illustrator and trying to do a clipping path and spending hours upon hours to get it. Just the perfect, smooth, nicely clipped object. That's where the growth happens. So if we take this ideology of growth happening in those uncomfortable environments or those uncomfortable moments staying in the pocket. I love that. Do you feel that there's some training or curriculum that's needed for the faculty that you're overseeing in order to get to that place?
That, I guess develops an art or a craft of being in the pocket, but also maintaining a safe environment.

CD: Yes, I think there are a couple of things that they can do. I was not trained as a teacher because I was trained as a designer. Everything I've learned to be a teacher has happened on the job or with me seeking personal coaching and development on the side.

Number one, I would encourage people to learn about nonviolent communication so we can talk about things and remove judgment from it. And I think that's very important to be able to talk about difficult things but not be difficult ourselves. Number two is to learn about facilitation and what it means to be a facilitator, and it's a very different power or hierarchy structure as opposed to being the sage on the stage or the guide on the side, and you're going to work with students or whoever's learning from you to help point them in a direction.

You don't have to hold power or expertise over them. It's more about curiosity and asking people to reconcile. Logic problems creative thinking problems, and so it's really question-based. And so that comes from, the term Socratic approach where it's just, I don't have answers. I just have more questions for you. I know where it needs to go, but I'm not gonna tell you how to get there. I just wanna ask you more questions. And in this way, we get a much higher level of participation in cognitive engagement from the students, whether they're there in person or watching it online somewhere. I think nonviolent communication, facilitation, and understanding of the Socratic approach will go a long way.
And now we're gonna take a quick break, want more of the most important higher ed news, insights, and perspectives, but don't have time to look for it. Visit to subscribe to our higher education news brief, where you'll get the top stories in higher ed. Delivered straight to your inbox every Monday.
And now back to the discussion.

IE: Let's turn back to a point you made earlier, and I think it relates to the value of higher education, which has been under scrutiny for quite a while now. Is it really worth it? The return on investment that you're making in a university in yourself by going to a university. So you mentioned that if faculty become more of these content creators, not only is there a benefit to the students, but there could be a long-term benefit, almost a way to increase brand equity for the universities. Can you just unpack that a little bit? How does creating content within the classroom not only help the student but also maybe increase the value of the education or increase the brand equity of a university as a parent?

CD: It's one of those things I've been very mindful of when you say to your children do as I say, not as I do. I think the best kind of teaching is leading by example so that people can model after you. I'll take a slight tangent and I'll bring it back to the question. The tangent is this. I want my kids to live a healthy life. I have two boys. They're 19 and 17 today, and I want them to exercise, so we have a lot of exercise equipment. But I tried. I've tried many times again, to knock on their door and say, Hey boys, let's go work out. Let's go for a hike. But they won't do it. They're like, I'm busy playing video games. I won't talk to my friends, or I have homework or something. So what I do is I just start exercising with my wife. I leave the program. Meaning the different exercises on the wall. So when they come in, they're like, what's going on here? They don't join right away, but eventually, they join. And how do I know? Because every once in a while I'll walk into our home gym and the weights are in different positions and the plates are off. And I know it's not my wife, it's the boys.

And so when we ask our students to go out of their comfort zone to go and try new things, What are we as professors doing? Are we trying new things? Are we going out of our comfort zone? Hypocritical then, don't you think? So if we're uncomfortable with creating media and writing and producing content, because that doesn't feel like our job description or what we signed up for, maybe that's a really good sign that we need to do that. And it's like the old professors that I used to have that pushed back against desktop publishing. They refuse to learn Photoshop and Illustrator. They refuse to learn web design and look at where they're at now, this is the future. So when they record videos or they try new kinds of models of teaching setting up experiments or demonstrations that take it out of the academic conversation and really get their hands dirty, I think that's a wonderful opportunity to learn and grow yourself.

And so I've always found that teaching I, I learn more from the students than I teach 'em. It's because when they push back or when I'm thinking about different ways of teaching, I find a more efficient and clearer way of saying or expressing an idea. And that's super valuable to me as a person. And so I would encourage everybody to try to make some content, but I do wanna put this out there.

As you mentioned, does it help us with our brand equity? My vision of a future university, whatever you wanna call it, the professor who authors the content has a stake in the success of that, much like authors do. Now, I taught for 15-plus years. I only made money when I showed up to class. I didn't get paid for the prep. I didn't get paid for driving to and from school. I did not get paid for times in which students emailed me outside of class. And that's okay. That's the model. But there's a better model. So I just wanna be selfish and I would just wanna talk a little bit about how we structure what we do at The Futur.

So we're not the only teachers. We need help from other professors. And so I invited my former lettering professor, Neils Lindstrom, to teach a lettering class because he's the one who taught me and I would not be on par with my master. And so what we have a deal with, Nils is. We record the course and for the rest of his life, he will receive actually for his children's life actually in perpetuity, a 20% royalty from every sale that's made from this point forward.

So he put in the work upfront, he shared his knowledge, and we were able to preserve it, which is important to me because as professors get older, the rate of forgetting is faster than the rate of remembering. We share this, and it's a wonderful thing. It's one of the most pleasurable things I get to do to quite literally sign checks to teachers who teach for us. And so now they have a stake in wanting to be successful. So they'll invest in themselves and they'll learn the tools and they'll find different ways of teaching because it behooves them to do I think that's good. The university wins, the teacher wins and the students win. I don't know how else to say that.

IE: Lemme just mirror-back some things that I heard that stood out. One thing you mentioned was that by encouraging your faculty or mandating your faculty to create content, you're actually training them. And by training your faculty, you're increasing the value of the education and you're also increasing the value of the institution because the faculty is training and learning and growing alongside the students. I love that. I love also this notion of accountability where you have to practice what you preach. If you're teaching a design class or a video editing class and you're not making content, then yeah, I think it undermines your authority. You need to actually be a practitioner as well as that sage on the stage. And then this third idea that I heard, I think is actually. The first time I've ever heard it, which is to do or consider maybe instead of adjunct faculty as a primary model to keep costs low and bring in those experts. What if universities actually looked at ways to extend licensing or royalties to guest lecturers that want to create content that could be embedded inside of a curriculum? Did I hear that correctly?

CD: That's right, 100-percent.

IE: So what else, we've talked really across a wide spectrum, but what else do you think needs to evolve maybe within a design education or at a design school in order to best support these up-and-coming creative professionals?
And I'm thinking just within a traditional setting right now, what else needs to change in these traditional settings in order to best prepare these up-and-coming creative professionals?

CD: If we look at what strains traditional schools and brick and mortar universities have, I think there are many and sometimes those strains start to become liabilities when the environment changes. They have a campus and they have a legacy, they have credibility, they have professors, and they have students, and they have a system of making all that work. And they have lots of space and facilities. So when the pandemic hit and we sent everyone home, I think every university in the world had to ask themselves if these were all of our assets, and we lost all of that. What does the world look like now? And many of 'em scrambled. Some of them lost hundreds of millions of dollars because we realize schools are more than just learning institutions. They're supporting athletic departments and getting sponsorship and corporate endowments and all kinds of other things get in there. They make money on parking and renting out facilities. It's a little bit murky. But when we look at it, what are the essential parts of teaching? I think some components can't be taken away. Community space, having incredible teachers as well as having incredible students. The best universities attract the best of both. Great professors with poor students do not work. Great students with poor instructors do not work. And so we have those components, but if we start to look at, "We have all this space, what is this space being used for?" So instead of having individual components of learning and repetition, why not pull some of those resources together?

Have a massive theater where students come in and they can watch as a communal thing. A really highly produced video where they can learn, so this is not supervised by any instructor. They can come in, so they have that communal experience just like when they're watching a movie together, there's something magical that happens and we can feel the energy of the room rise and fall, and I think that's a good thing.

And then to have a lot of workspace labs and resources because if each individual student were to buy whatever piece of equipment, that would be a very expensive thing. Not everybody needs a rapid prototyping machine. Not everybody needs a large format printer or high-resolution 3D scanners. So the schools can do that and provide those resources and then just allow their students and their, and then their teachers to play.

They can get all the professional video and audio recording equipment together because those are very expensive and cost prohibitive. But if they use that in that way, they are going to free up a lot more space. So they won't need as much space. They can probably do more on-campus activities to attract and build that sense of belonging and get people involved versus again, sending people to go home, do homework, and come in to do the lecture. It makes no sense to me.

IE: Yeah, those are, I think, some great ideas there. I'm wondering, as I'm hearing you talk through this, about the balance between online or on-campus activities and events. Do you think that things need to sway one way or the other and then I wanna arrive at The Futur and how The Futur sits within those different degree paths, but in terms of, on campus versus online education? Is there a balance that needs to be made there or we you think we're a pretty good standard at this point?

CD: I can only answer this question in the broadest sense because every university's different with its mix of on-campus and online curricula. I think there we're nowhere near where we need to be to be more of an idealized hybrid learning environment. And I think if most of the lectures were moved to an online situation and the in-person experience was reserved for feedback and facilitation of community and sharing of ideas and brainstorming, then we're at that ideal mix. But the campuses would look very different. They would probably be. I think 50% of the size in which they are now. And the good news is if they can shed some of that overhead, they can pass the savings on to students and they can pay teachers better. And I think that's an important concept. And they create an additional revenue model for people who just want to learn via the online experience and don't need the physical space for a number of different reasons.

One is budgetary constraints, time constraints. This is where asynchronous learning works really well for them, where if they literally have to work during class hours, they can just take the online at their own time and at their own pace. And for those that are geographically challenged from somewhere all o somewhere across the country or the world, they can have a sense of I went to that school and I got to learn from those professors and I'm here and it's accessible. And so when we shift the focus, I mean if we shift the focus back to what education should be about, which is teaching, Versus tuition or profit centers. And then I think we, we can find a happier balance. One of the biggest things that I think is going to be the problem facing future generations of students is tuition and student debt.

Tuition keeps going up at an incredible rate that I just don't know what kinds of jobs are going to exist to help you pay back the student loan. And as student loan is the only kind of debt that's not forgivable via bankruptcy. This will stick with you forever unless you have a president who's gonna forgive you for it. You're going to have to keep paying this forever. I have friends that I went to school with that are still paying down their student loans 20-plus years out. This is a horrible thing. If we talk about creating wealth for ourselves and for other members of our community and society, we cannot build wealth because we're just stuck with debt.

We don't have the opportunity to invest because the money that's freed up to invest is tied up in loans. We'll never get out of this. It's just a generation inheriting debt or attaining debt and then not being able to get out of it because the jobs currently don't support it. The kind of salaries you need to make to pay down this.
So there are better ways, and they all exist, but there's so much inertia and so much commitment to the way things are done that I just feel like oftentimes these ideas will go out there. And I'm gonna send this signal out there to the admins, the presidents, the provost who are brave enough. Please, let's have a conversation. I have lots of ideas. I have real models that I can share with you and do with it as you wish.

IE: I love that open invitation. Thank you for that. And you've always been such a visionary and you also outlaid a model of what an ideal mix of a hybrid education might look like. What are some other characteristics of the ideal higher education model that Chris Do has?

CD: I'm gonna throw in some curve balls in here. Cause I think we can talk about the same concepts, but I'll try to take this from a different approach, and let's see where it goes. I believe that I started to figure out a healthier work-life balance many years after graduation because in school it was about this concept of like work as hard as possible. The teachers give you more work than they know you can do, and it's a competition for your time and energy. And even back in the nineties when I was going to school, people were falling asleep driving. They were living in their car because there was not enough time to go home and back. And it was like a badge of honor to say, I've not slept in multiple days.

This is long-term unhealthy and unsustainable, and there is probably some long-term damage that's happening. And so this kind of grind culture, this obsession with overworking projects, I think we need to change that. So I would love to see universities take a broader approach to creating a whole happy person that is, is spiritually strong, that's philosophically aligned. That is physically well so that they can be the best creative person, and we know sleep's a big part of it. So introducing parts of the curriculum about how. How you should sleep and how your rhythms work with the light that in the day, keeping your body healthy and exercising and providing really healthy food so that person is going to be in an optimal state of mind, that they're alert and they're creative so that they can learn. And I think if we can start to change that, integrate that into the program. Where I went to school, I went to an art school. There's no athletic department. There literally is no athletic department there. There is no gym, there's no talk about that because it's all about do you understand what typeface that is and whether can you draw the perfect curve. Is that more important than my health? I don't think so. But we don't think about that when we're in our teens or early twenties. And I think schools need to do that. The next thing I would love to do is talk about using this budget that you have to build the world's best library. That's one of the benefits of going to the school that I did, which was I had access to books that are out of print that are rare, that you can't find anywhere. All are available to me as part of my tuition. I don't know if that's true with every school. So invest in the resources, media, films, books, whatever it is that music everything so that your students can immerse themselves in culture and pop culture and history.

IE: I'm really thankful that you brought in the idea of the work-life balance. I have a tendency to think of it more as a work-life cycle because it's not like you go and do work and then you go and do life like one feeds the other. And I think learning how to, how to have one feed the other in a healthy way, I think is a really valuable skill. If we think about your boys, and congratulations, by the way, you're raising two older boys who are thinking about going on to college, I'm sure. So is it worth the investment? Are you encouraging them to go for alternative modes of education or are you encouraging them to go to college somewhere?

CD: Good question. My wife and I, prior to having kids, we started to set aside a annual contribution. So by the time they turned 18, they would have their tuition taken care of. We didn't account for the fact that both of the boys for up until a period of time all went to private schools and it's nearly the cost of the college fund that we were saving up for them. So my pledge to both my boys is mom and dad are committed to paying for whatever school you can get into up until your bachelor's degree. After that, it's on your own. So I don't want you to think that you can be a student forever. Now, things have changed so much and the two boys that I have are very different. He's super motivated, and he believes in brand names. And so he wants to get into an Ivy League school. So he got into a great small liberal arts college, and then this year he got accepted into an Ivy League school, so he's transferring out as a sophomore. So he's thrilled. He's a totally different kind of person. This is what he wants. It's part of his identity. He doesn't feel right that he didn't get into the schools to which he applied for. That's my oldest, my 17-year-old goes to a public art high school, which is a beautiful thing. It's the first public program he's ever been involved in. I told him, you need to think about what you want. It's not about what I want. I have this money saved up for you. So if you do not want to go to school, you don't have to. I will give you all the money. Travel, take online classes, and go and intern or apprentice for someone. Take one-on-one lessons, go join speaking circuits and sit there and learn from people any way you like to learn. And he's okay. So I have no expectation that he's gonna go to school, what kind of school he's gonna go to, or any kind of degree.

I do have the money earmarked for him. Now, I do know that I'm saying this from a place of privilege that my wife and I have the financial resources to be able to do this. And I know that most parents aren't in a position like this, so the students or their children have fewer options. But it was something that we had planned for, and we both leave it up to each of our children to determine what it is they want in their life, and they want very different things. So is it worth it? I don't know.

IE: I guess that's the question. And the question, right? If yes, the traditional higher education model is still worth the investment. And in your personal story, and thank you for sharing, how you've set them up for success, it comes down to a very individual choice, right? It comes down to the individual and your older boy who thinks of it as part of his identity or as your younger son maybe isn't as attached to that identity and you know is gonna pursue other modes. It's a difficult question to answer and clearly, you think that there are other ways of learning and other ways to transition a career and The Futur is a big part of that. Is The Futur a collaborator in this space then, or is it a competition model? Like how do you see The Futur as it relates to the traditional higher education model?

CD: I would love to be considered a competition, but I really think we're playing two different games. It's like one is playing cricket and the other is playing baseball. It looks the same from afar but is far from the same. I think we're interested in finding the most dynamic, cost-effective, and efficient way to teach at scale, and that's our mission. So we will do whatever we need to do and it evolves all the time. Whereas schools have a long history and tradition of how they do certain things. Very difficult for them to unbundle any of that because lives are at stake. There is a board of directors who are supervising everything and there's a whole legacy that's involved. And I don't envy anyone who's in a position where they can make some of these changes. And even from the short time that I've spent in a nonprofit, I can see how slow and difficult it is to get things to move. Because if I recall correctly, we have a mandate to preserve the legacy and there's liability if we go and do something that ruins it moving forward, like we're legally responsible. So of course the mentality is this a threat? Is this a high-risk move? And so if that's the mindset of the board of directors who have a fiduciary responsibility to govern in a specific way.

No provost, no president is gonna come and say, I have this big idea. It's gonna change everything and get approval. It doesn't work like that. Probably works like that in the private sector. So I think for us, I just see us as the canary and the education coal mine. We will go out there, we'll explore, we'll find the dangerous ways.

We'll lose tons of money here and there. We'll make tons of money somewhere else. And as we prove the business model, it's all an open operating system as far as I'm concerned. I'm not trying to safeguard and protect any of our ideas because I'm interested in changing the education game. So if anybody's interested, I'm happy to share with you what we've learned in the last eight years. Use any of it or none of it. It's entirely up to you. And so at some point, I think we'll have proven our business model and scale to a certain point where the amount of money that we're making is going to raise a lot of eyebrows. And so we're going to prove our own concept, and we're not gonna expect anyone else to adopt it. We're gonna prove it up until a certain point where people can no longer dismiss it as, yeah, that's a fun thing that you're doing, have fun doing that little thing that you're trying to build. And when they can't ignore us anymore, I think then when we invite them to come to the table they'd be more willing to come and chat.

IE: Is one of your goals to become an accredited University or college?

CD: That is not on our roadmap at all. And from what I understand, once you go down that path, it's kinda like having investors in your company. You now have someone else's standards to live up to and you start to standardize certain things. I'm too much of a maverick to want to invite that into what we do and some would argue that Arts Center was better before they got accredited, and so that's something I'm very wary of going down that path. I do understand that students want to receive some kind of certification to prove that they've done the work and it means something to them personally and professionally and something we have to work towards, but, We're not quite sure how to get there yet.

IE: I think one of the ways that you have validated the value of The Futur and the education it provides is through career outcomes. And so I want to ask you about your community program, but I also wanna open that question up a little bit to the notion of career outcomes being a measurement of kind of that return on investment. How important are career outcomes? When you are looking at the gap between, graduating with your bachelor's degree and starting your professional career, how much should that play as a factor in the curriculum design? And then also tell us about the community program and how you're helping individuals actually bridge that gap between education and professional success.

CD: I think all programs, regardless of what it is that you're trying to teach, or how you're designing your model to transform people's lives need to be accountable for the promise that they make.

So if you pay a certain amount of money, you should deliver on that promise and I think this is where it gets a little bit, we get into the gray area, so the universities don't promise you a great job. A few of 'em do. Most of 'em do not. What they do is they promise you a great educational experience, which is sometimes hard to measure, and it keeps it gray like that.

So when students graduate, they learn, I think, both soft and hard skills, and they're going to enter the workforce. But what they don't realize is there's yet a whole other set of skills that they don't have that they're going to need to be able to be to thrive as leaders or as entrepreneurs and to work with clients.

It's a whole different animal, and most of the universities that I go and talk to, they don't understand that because it's mostly taught by academics. And they've been shielded from the real world and the broad generalization of being in the ivory tower saying this is the way it should be. I think there's some truth to that.
Having been on the inside, they're so insulated from what it means to have to compete for work and to deal with customer service issues. And so I think sometimes they start to tell a narrative to students about how you have to educate your clients and tell 'em to, walk off a bridge and just, it's all about the purity, the art.

I think it's probably doing a lot of harm in terms of the mindset of students. So what we're, where we come in, we are not trying to replicate what has been done well. We're looking for gaps and where we can help close some of them so that students or graduates can have more success in the real world, either as an employee, but most of what we focus on is them being entrepreneurs.

And so we're going to teach those skills they haven't learned, and this is where we can find a lot of success. Now, it's hard to say the career outcome is what you want, but the financial return on what you invest in terms of either watching some of our free content or taking some of our courses will more than pay for itself. So the thing that I love about my job is, and I think I have the best job in the world than you probably have this best job in the world too, which is I get paid to help people. And the model that I built rewards me tremendously for helping people at scale. So I'm getting messages all the time, and here's an example. This is a literal example. Somebody sent me a message recently and said I used to charge a thousand dollars to do a logo. I gotta tell you right now, my lowest price now is $10,000 to do a logo. Now that isn't so much like I taught 'em how to do a logo. I did not. They learn it by themselves. They learn it from another professor. But their ability to be confident and to have the conversation about money and to be taken seriously as a business owner, an operator, and not as an artist. That’s the thing I take great pride in.

IE: What a phenomenal story. And I'm sure you have countless examples of stories like that. You, Chris, you've helped me write a better proposal. You've helped me, manage a negotiation or a contract review. And I guess the part of that answer that piqued my interest is do you find a lot of graduates coming to The Futur in order to help launch their career? Or do you find that most people are coming directly outta high school? Going to your model as an alternative path? What's the demographic?

CD: I think the demographic has changed and it keeps changing over time. Initially, I was trying to speak to agency owners, people who have been outta school, who've worked for a period of time, who have all the skills that they need, and now they just need a little bit of help understanding how to run a business.

That's a very small group of people, especially the kind of people we focus on from the big cities, right? Like the major centers of commerce. And as we've continued doing what we do, we reach more and more people. So now they're getting younger and they're going way outside of what I would consider a core audience. Initially, I thought of them as designers, web designers, brand strategists, motion designers, people who make videos, and people working at very high levels. And then all of a sudden I start to notice like six or seven years into making content, we have tradespeople coming up to me and talking to me, security guard, someone who's doing customs, and at the airport I'm like, what? Do you watch our content? Okay. This is interesting. And so what is happening is what I thought was. Was limited to a very small audience, our broader business principles or issues of self-confidence and negotiation, which everybody needs. So I find it interesting when I go to revisit Art Center, I go there for a grad show and I'll tell you the story, one of the professors there who I really look up to, Not one of my former professors, but one I really look up to. He came over to me and said, Chris, every semester when we start this semester, I asked the students, how is it that you came to find out about Art Center? He goes, now, the majority of them say through you. This means that many of them, I presume, are teenagers. Going through high school now, cuz we've been doing this long enough when they're like, you know what, I want to go and be a designer or professional interaction designer, something like that. Because of some of the content I saw that it was financially viable to do this and I'm more encouraged and empowered to do this. And I gotta tell you, this was not my intention, but the result is there. And I was like, this is really cool, so maybe it's getting younger and it's getting broader, for sure.

IE: And maybe you should start negotiating like a commission or some referral fee on tuition fees.

CD: Like recruitment fees, right? Something like that.

IE: Yeah, exactly. You could essentially start your own, agency or recruitment agency.

CD: If that was a real idea, here's what I would do for whatever you're gonna pay me. I'm gonna turn around and turn it into a scholarship fund and give it right back to the students because that's what I believe.

IE: Amazing. Amen. So final thoughts, you have the attention and the ear of senior administration at private and public universities. What are your final thoughts and closing remarks for them?

CD: Final remarks. I know it's a super scary world where things are changing so fast and we just got caught up with one new transition and another one has already emerged. And the last one that we're gonna talk about I think is artificial intelligence. And it's scary how fast things are moving. It's changing things faster than you can respond to, but the response to all of this isn't to go back to putting your head down and saying, I'm gonna ignore this and put your fingers in your ears.
But each and every single person who is hearing this message who's excited about this, can actually do something about it. It doesn't mean that you have to upset people and go against the board. You don't have to do that. You can try just one little thing that pushes you outta sight of your comfort zone.

Get on social media, find out what the kids are talking about, understand the platforms and how you can use them, and don't make any decision whether it's good or bad. Just be aware. It's one of those things you just need to expand your palette, and maybe not today, not tomorrow, but days or weeks from now, you're gonna wake up and night in a cold sweat and say, you know what? That problem I've been thinking about and this other thing that I'm learning, there is a connection here. I can make those two come together, and this is an open invitation. Anybody who can hear this on your podcast, please reach out to me. I'm available on the DMs on almost every social media. Just identify you're an educator and you wanna talk, and I'm happy to sit down and share. It's an open conversation. If we can do this on a public forum, that would be even better. So I'm not repeating myself and I wanna share with you with you what I've learned. It's a lot easier than you think, and the reward is well worth whatever energy and effort you put into it. So I encourage you to do something about it.

IE: Yes, we are gonna take you up on that and this is gonna continue to help you with such an incredible mission. I think it's a vision because it's the most aspirational thing that I think is out there in the educational field, of helping 1 billion students do what they love. Thank you again for your time today, Chris. I know that a lot of people are gonna get value outta this conversation. It's just been a pure and true pleasure of mine. Thank you.

CD: Thank you so much. I will geek out with you any day of the week about education.


Grow Your Enrollment

Older Post Inspiring Conversations on Higher Ed Happy Hour Podcast Newer Post Adam Gopnik on the Mystery of Mastery

Higher Ed News Brief

Sign up to get the top headlines in higher education every week.