top of page

Blueprint for a new university

The foundation for a transition to a better world in the 21st century

This page reflects work in progress. Last update: 11 April 2022

Looking at the complex problems in the world, such as the sustainability issues and global conflicts, it is clear that with the way we learn today we are not able to solve them. Therefore a new way of learning has been developed, which we call Next Level Learning. And because there have already been so many ideas about learning, a showcase project has been started to show that this new way of learning will enable all of us to solve the complex problems in this world. In this showcase project, which we call Columbus project, a new type of open learning environment emerged that solves many of the shortcomings of current educational systems and research institutions. That is why this Columbus project has become also a showcase for its Columbus Open Learning Environment (COLE) that can be used as a blueprint for the university of the 21st century. A university that will be the foundation for a transition to a better world as described in our Vision 2100+ on


The Columbus project is underway since November 2021. You can read all about it in the four chapters below. The first chapter is about the ‘why and how’ of the whole project. The second chapter is about the ‘concrete implementation’ of the project and the Columbus Open Learning Environment (COLE). The next chapter outlines the COLE as a ‘Learning environment for a new university’. And the last chapter completes the story of the ‘Columbus showcase’. The COLE is operational on this website, the Academy for Next Level Learning (The login for COLE you find in the right upper corner).

Why and how​

Why Next Level Learning


We started our initiative to get the complex problems of this world solved. Systems thinking has become a popular method for this. It is an approach based on seeing the whole, a complex system consisting of many interacting parts. In past decades researchers have come up with additional tools and methods to improve the results of systems thinking. In spite of all these improvements there are still a number of shortcomings. They can be summarized in four simple insights which are not difficult to understand and seem rather obvious. You probably wonder why everyone is not yet seeing the whole based on these insights. This is due to the essence of systems thinking, we have to see the whole, being part of the whole makes it very difficult to see the whole. We virtually have to put ourselves outside the whole to see the whole. In practice, this means that we have to let go our own perspective or paradigm and we do not easily do this. We need some kind of aid that takes us virtually outside of the whole, Next Level Learning is such an aid. Next Level Learning is a form of systems thinking that has been developed on the basis of the four insights. We therefore call Next Level Learning the 4th generation systems thinking.


Next Level Learning can be achieved easily by doing a series of exercises using an animation tool. This tool and the exercises are available for free at

With Next Level Learning we look at problems, systems and ourselves from the perspective of the whole as a kind of outsider. This transforms everything and makes Next Level Learning a practical form of transformative learning.

Why the Columbus Project

The Berlin Declaration of the UNESCO conference in May 2021 stated that transformative learning for people and planet is a necessity for our survival and that of future generations and basically the enabler for all 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). But no one seems to be able to imagine what the transformative effect really brings about. It is like the caterpillar that cannot imagine that it will one day become a butterfly if it never has seen a butterfly. If the caterpillar was not prompted by its genes that it is going to transform, then there is actually no motivation in the caterpillar to enter the process of transformation. Only when the caterpillar has become a butterfly can it experience the new dimension of flying and see the new possibilities and solutions this will offer. In the same way, people have no motivation to achieve Next Level Learning, a practical form of transformative learning, because the dimension they will gain is as it were invisible for them. The Columbus Project has been started to make this dimension visible to potentially everyone on earth. In practical terms the project will show how we can all solve the complex problems of this world and how we will be able to enter a transition to a better world with transformative learning in the practical form of Next Level Learning.


In the Columbus project students from different parts of the world work in groups on solutions using Next Level Learning for a large number of practical complex problems that we have in the world such as sustainability issues and global conflicts. Then these results will be made visible to the whole world. In doing so, seven billion people at once will be able to see solutions to global problems and also they will be able to see a new dimension. In this case hundreds of students from different parts of the world, different backgrounds, different cultures, having found solutions for very complex problems in this world. It will also show how we all will learn together in this new dimension and how we will find solutions together. To accelerate the acceptance of the results we will approach universities to scientifically examine the results. With a scientific confirmation of hundreds of results, transformative learning will be accepted much faster and people will get motivated to achieve Next Level Learning.

Concrete implementation

Below you find a description of the concrete implementation of the Columbus Open Learning Environment (COLE). You can check the news page for accomplished milestones, see

Timeframe and implementation of COLE

Initially the academy started the Columbus project as a linear programme for students. In November 2021 the linear steps below marked in orange were implemented. Then we came across the MECCE call for proposals (see and there we saw that we actually had created much more than a linear programme for students. We had already realised the basis for an Open Learning Environment (OLE) as we call it. We also realised that after the Columbus project the academy could open up this OLE potentially to everyone and we started to think about how we could support this with an online environment. A password protected area was created where students could meet each other. The academy started to add things to this learning environment to make it a complete environment that could be used for future universities as it does not only provide a learning environment for students but also for researchers. Actually everything becomes one OLE, for education as well as research.


In February 2022 a test run was performed, not only for the newly created COLE but also for the programme “Mastery in transition” (MIT). This MIT is the basis for all students to start with when they enter into the COLE. The MIT is developed to be facilitated by the students themselves.

It is up to the initial students of the Columbus project how they progress. For example, they could build a more flashy overlay website for the Columbus project specifically aimed at students. These types of upgrades will take place from March 2022 onwards. It is expected that a worldwide campaign to attract students will start in spring 2022. Realistically we think that it will take about a year to achieve the goal of 200 students making up a showcase for the whole world. In a very optimistic scenario it will take several months and in a very pessimistic scenario several years.

Current status of implementation


In November 2021 the linear steps below marked in orange were implemented. The steps in green have been added to make it an actual Open Learning Environment. It also reflects the current status of implementation.

Below you find all the steps as currently described at the getting started page for students in the online OLE of the Columbus project. This page is meant as a practical guide in this open learning environment. With the steps below students can get started:


Step 1) Confirm the registration for the mastery programme that you have been signed up for. You have received an e-mail with the time, date and further details. You will participate in the mastery programme as is described at step 5. On the page "Mastery in transition" you can read all about the programme.


Step 2) Create an account and log in to the Columbus Open Learning Environment (COLE), see the login button in the right upper corner of this website. The Columbus Open Learning environment is an open learning platform where you can share your solutions, get into contact with other participants, form groups and initiate meetings.


Step 3) Do the exercises with the tool to achieve Next Level Learning. See


Step 4) Try to solve the example problem on the page "Example problem and solution" by answering the questions on the page "How". The elaborated solution to this example problem will be used as a guide to solving complex problems in the mastery programme.


Step 5) Participate in the mastery programme for which you were registered at step 1.


Step 6) With the group you worked with in the mastery programme, you can work together to solve a complex problem as described at step 8, or:


Step 7) Optional: Find other participants with whom you want to form a group to solve a complex problem. For this you can make use of the Columbus Open Learning Environment and the exploration meetings. For the Columbus Open Learning Environment see the login button (as well as step 2) and for the exploration meetings see the page "Explorations".


Step 8) Work with others in a group on a complex problem and describe the solution as answers to the questions on the page "How" and as worked out in the example problem.


Step 9) As a group, submit the solution by email addressed to Nils Beetsma with the following details:

- The names of the participants in the group.

- The solution as a pdf attachment, A4 format

- The names and e-mail addresses of the participants at the beginning of the solution.

As participants, you remain the owner of your solution and responsible for what you write. Read more about this below.


Step 10) Optional: You can then form more groups and arrive at more solutions and use the Columbus Open Learning Environment, exploration meetings, inspiration cafe, solutions cafe and experience centre. You can also submit multiple solutions with the same group and possibly for the same complex problem. To move forward yourself and gather your own group of people around you, the live cafe is also very suitable. See page "Live café".


Steps 7 to 10 together form an open learning environment. You can continue to participate and learn with all the next level activities of the Academy for Next Level Learning and you can also create the same kind of activities in your own environment.


Learning environment for the new university

To describe the Columbus Open Learning Environment (COLE) six aspects are used that are applicable to any education practice. In this way it is easy to compare the COLE with current school systems and university practices. Off course the COLE could also be described by any other model or framework because the essence is not in the structure but in the way students learn with Next Level Learning. Therefore all students that start in the COLE have to participate in de programme “Mastery in transition” (MIT).

Below you find the description of COLE regarding the following six aspects:


First however, in the paragraphs below a clarification is provided about licences and university upgrades.

No licence required


An example of a very complex problem and the elaborated solution intended for the students of the Columbus project is available on This makes it possible for everyone to put this Columbus Open Learning Environment (COLE) in practice. There is no licence required, everything is free to use. Anyone who is going to use this COLE based on Next Level Learning supports the transition to a better world and that is the goal we are aiming for.  

University upgrade

We started with a linear programme for the Columbus project and that is still part of the current COLE although not visible anymore as such. And just like we started with a linear programme for the Columbus project, universities can seamlessly upgrade their current learning environment to COLE, a blueprint for the new university of the 21st century onwards. A university with COLE will be the foundation for a better world as described in our Vision 2100+ on


In our vision the transition to a better world starts in our view at the universities, see for our complete vision 2100+


The proof that COLE will work as stated above lies in the future of the Columbus project. In this sense the project is not only a showcase of students from all over the world solving global problems with Next Level Learning but also a showcase for how we all could learn and live in a better world.



Students who have achieved Next Level Learning become self-motivated (intrinsically motivated) and self-directed learners. When students start to participate in this Columbus project they will initially be directed to form a group with other students for working together to find a solution to a complex problem of this world. During this initial phase they will achieve Next Level Learning and get acquainted to the Columbus Open Learning Environment (COLE). 


COLE is based on learning together using Next Level Learning to easily overcome the blind spots we all have in learning. Although the project has as a starting point to solve the complex problems of this world students can learn in any direction they want, about any subject, theoretically or physically.

With Next Level Learning everyone can start to see new possibilities and actual solutions to very complex problems this world is facing such as sustainability issues and global conflicts. On you will find a practical framework and guidelines for getting started solving a complex problem with Next Level Learning.




The curriculum of the Columbus project consists of only one item. All students have to work in at least one group to find a solution for a complex problem in this world. After this first result the student is free to follow a self-directed learning path. Students can learn in any direction they want, about any subject, theoretically or physically.

There is room for experience and exploration in any way. Everything is open to the student. The open learning environment facilitates students to meet each other and to explore in many different ways the learning path they want to follow.

Students in the open learning environment can also participate in learning programmes offered by other students. Initially there is only one learning programme available “Mastery in transition”. If a student wants to teach a certain learning programme it is required that the student is able to proof mastery of the content of the learning programme. In Next Level Learning terms this means that the student must be able to develop and facilitate a learning programme based on Next Level Learning. The present teachers can make use of a learning programme to make this transition


Although we start in the Columbus project with students in higher education, in about one year from now the Columbus project will end as such and open up to everyone. In other words, the Columbus project and the Academy merge into one open learning environment in which everyone can participate independent of age and background. The COLE can be easily extended to a community for everyone, such as professionals from the outside world of an university.


Next level professionals


Every student learning in a COLE for some time will automatically become a next level professional later on in work. Whatever the profession will be the student will be able to perform at the next level. This is easy to see for example if we look at product development. Anyone who develops a product will start with a objective. This objective can be rewritten as a solution for a complex problem. The next step is solving the complex problem using the four questions in the same way as in the elaborated solution of the example problem. The latter can be found in the central part of the COLE (step 4 on the getting started page as shown above).


The Columbus project is for students and carried out by students.
Students having achieved mastery in a certain subject, field, practice, etc can start to teach other students in a learning programme. Initially only one programme is available “Mastery in transition”. Fundamentally the number of learning programmes offered can grow infinitely far beyond everything current universities offer.


The Columbus Open Learning Environment (COLE) supports students to solve complex problems in their own environment and to find other to learn and act together. The students can discuss solutions with each other in the ‘Next level solution café’, they can find inspiration in the ‘Next level inspiration cafe’, they can try out things in the ‘Next Level experience centre’ they can take leadership in the ‘Next level leadership cafe’ and bring al in practice. Everything in the COLE is local and global at the same time. And any student can create in the same way another COLE that could also be local and global at the same time. How the COLE of the Columbus project and after that the COLE of the Academy for Next Level Learning will grow and how many other COLEs will emerge is up to the transition that will follow.

The Columbus project showcase


The results of this Columbus Project, or solutions to complex problems in this world, in their multiplicity and diversity will unlock a new dimension of possibilities and solutions for all. This will bring about transformation and a transition to a better world. We will all gain a shared perspective. We will see shared possibilities and solutions. This will make us collaborate, feel connected and at peace with each other. Imagine what an incredible change this will be compared to the current situation in this world and how much power, energy, time we will gain that we can use to create a better world for everyone. The entire transition is described in our vision 2100+ on


The Columbus project is essentially a learning environment in which students, the participants of this project, create solutions for generic complex problems that are not directly related to the students themselves. These solutions are the results of the project and are publicized primarily via de website of the Academy for Next Level Learning. The students remain the owner of their publications and the Columbus Project, the Academy for Next Level Learning, can be regarded as the publisher. All students participate voluntarily, completely detached from any organisation like the university where the student is studying.

We have established four questions for students as a framework to arrive at a complete solution to a complex problem. These questions also serve to raise awareness as with Next Level Learning the answers will be different than before and so will the solution. This will create consciousness about the new dimension (described above), thereby changing, or rather transforming, the participant's behaviour, thinking, feeling and impact related to the problem. 

Showcasing the results

Every student group in this Columbus project produces a result. Practically this result will be a description or a multimedia presentation of a solution to a complex problem in a framework as described above. In the Columbus project we will publish all the results on our website and also make the results available to other organisations and parties.


In order to accelerate the distribution of the results we will approach universities that have an important role in fields related to Next Level Learning, such as transformative learning, systems thinking, fundamental physics research, research into solutions for Sustainability Development Goals (SDGs) and interdisciplinary and international learning. Universities that have an important role and experience in these fields include Shanghai University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Wageningen University & Research.


In addition to universities, we will also approach umbrella organizations, such as to the Great Transition Initiative (GTI) and present the results to them. We will also approach UNESCO where we will present the results as an answer to the Berlin Declaration.

bottom of page