This project starts at the beginning of the post-secondary experience, by tackling the most important (and often most ignored) question of all: why are you in college or university? What is your definition of a meaningful life? What do you hope to achieve by investing significant time, money and energy in your education?
The My Meaningful Life team is exploring ways to help students get to know themselves and their goals before starting their post-secondary journey. Do they want to get a job? Follow a passion? Learn for the sake of discovery? Finding a way to figure this out first should help learners enjoy purposeful learning for a meaningful life – and avoid wasting time on programs they regret.
My Meaningful Life is an exploratory project focused on finding ways to help students get to know themselves and their goals before starting their educational journey. This project tackled two important (and often ignored) questions.
1. What is your definition of a meaningful life?
2. How can we help learners enjoy purposeful learning for a meaningful life?
During the design research phase, the team heard about many tools and resources for assessing current skills, strengths, personality, career options, etc. Students spend a lot of time thinking about these things, which are all very important when considering education and career paths, but missing from this equation was the aspiration and exploration.
The team discovered there are very few intentional opportunities or resources for students to consider their dreams, values, fears, worldviews and what they hope to connect to in a greater context in their life. These are often at the core of what makes something meaningful but there aren’t many resources that actively help students develop a greater self-awareness around these things.
Many students describe learning from past experiences in order to make better suited choices in the future. At the same time there is a lot of pressure to make the “right” decision when considering educational and career pathways. There are pressures from parents, society, academic and financial pressures etc. This causes a lot of stress for students and doesn’t encourage trying things out to learn more.
This insight is important because it points to a need for more low risk, “safe to fail” learning opportunities that don’t come with a big commitment.
Using a human-centered design approach, the priority throughout this project was to keep students at the center of research in order to develop a solution that improves their post-secondary experience. The process was iterative and consisted of several stages, each one informing the next. The stages included finding a problem area, defining the problem, ideating, and prototyping.
The team began the project by speaking to a few students, doing a brief literature scan, and reflecting on personal experiences. The preliminary research helped the team determine areas needed to examine more deeply — they needed to know more about how students navigated and made decisions around learning and the resources they utilized in the process.
To learn about their experiences navigating post-secondary education, the primary research involved meeting one-on-one with students in programs from high school to PhD levels, as well as career advisors.
The team used a mix of qualitative research tools such as journey mapping so students could tell us their stories about choosing programs, influential supports, transitions, career selection and more. They listened closely and then analyzed their stories to identify patterns and anomalies in the experiences they described.
A guided trip into the future(s):
This prototype is about creating a free space beyond current roles — a space for growth, experimenting and inventing. It is a space for exploring beyond the confines of any structured path. In this space where the future becomes unknown, this is where students can imagine, dream, create and allow the future to be truly inventive and inclusive.
The exploratory process proposed is made up of a series of activities that use a variety of creative tools to envision multiple distinct futures. Drawing from futures and foresight practices, this process helps students identify their preferred future. It also benefits students by providing a low risk way for them to explore. It empowers them by providing an opportunity to develop greater clarity about what they could do and what’s important to them.
Chantale Brunet , Hannah Carriere, Samantha Zoe Germain