The curriculum is conducted entirely in English. It takes one academic year (two semesters) to accomplish. The curriculum comprises of 750 hours of study, which includes 174 instruction /contact hours and 576 hours of flexibly scheduled individual and group work. Students are required to be physically present at the VUB campus in Etterbeek Brussels for 2 – 2.5 days per month (see ‘Schedule‘). The additional individual and group work, which does not require presence in Brussels and can be scheduled in a flexible manner, is estimated to take about 3 to 5 days per month.
The curriculum comprises of the following five large components (courses):
If we want intelligence to continuously exceed its limits, our thinking must become fluent in crossing all kinds of boundaries. Some of the most seemingly impassable ones are those instilled by academic disciplines and professional identities in framing what kind of cognitive operations are expected and allowable within their respective confinements – and which do count as ‘thinking’ at all. The ‘Thinking about Thinking’ part of the curriculum serves to provide a background for an understanding of thinking which is in itself a-disciplinary.
This part of the curriculum is composed of six knowledge-intense modules. The modules aim to foster the meta-cognitive flexibility of the students by enriching their understanding of a selection of interrelated concepts and approaches sourced from cognitive science, philosophy, psychology, sociology, neuroscience, information science and cybernetics:
- The brain (6h)
- What is thinking (6h)
- Worldviews and identities (6h)
- Embodied cognition (4h)
- Symbolic cognition (4h)
- Intelligence (6h)
Each module is arranged according to the following general schema:
The largest part of the curriculum provides the students with a rich array of advanced thinking frameworks, methods and tools (such as complexity thinking, systems thinking, design thinking, collective intelligence tools etc.)
The objectives of the ‘Toolkit’ modules are two-layered. The basic objectives are for the students to become fluent in understanding and selecting the relevant methods and tools, applying them in real-world circumstances, and guiding others (collaborators, teams, organisations) in joining in and thinking together. The deeper aims, however, are flexibility and freedom. By knowing and confidently applying more than one thinking framework, and by being able to observe and evaluate affordances and limitations of each, the students will exercise the power, plasticity, and movability of thought itself – vis a vis any specific framework or method.
The twelve competency building modules provide a wide selection of advanced thinking frameworks, methods and tools while facilitating an intense workout for the agility of thought. The modules include:
- Logical thinking and reasoning (6h)
- Fallacies and biases (6h)
- Critical thinking (6h)
- Divergent and lateral thinking (6h)
- Extended mind (6h)
- Co-thinking (6h)
- Ethical thinking (6h)
- Dialectical thinking (6h)
- Systems thinking (6h)
- Complexity thinking (6h)
- Design thinking and research (6h)
- Game thinking (6h)
Each module is arranged according to the following general schema:
The ‘Thinking Toolkit’ course comprises 72 hours of instruction and 240 hours of individual work (individual exercises and writing). Instruction is carried out in an interactive, hands(heads)-on manner. The teaching methods include group exercises, individual and group experimentation, mini-lectures, discussions, teamwork, games and practical assignments. Each module is preceded by a short exercise assignment documented in a correspondence between the participants and the instructor.
From its inception the VUB has always prided itself on its guiding philosophy of Free Thinking, as reflected in its mottos ‘Thinking should never submit itself’, ‘Reason and Engage’ and ‘Nothing is unthinkable’, and more generally in its striving for diversity of perspectives, interdisciplinary collaboration, and engagement with contemporary issues. The free, critical, creative and independent thinking, being the focus of our programme, constitutes a core element of the university’s DNA and is consistently taught in several well established open seminar series, organised around the campus.
Our programme interlinks these initiatives, making the participation in the selected series into an integral part the curriculum. The students select at least one among the on-going series and follow it throughout one semester. In addition to the regular participation, the students carry out an observation assignment designed to advance their understanding of the processes of co-thinking.
The list of available seminars includes:
- Crosstalks: a series of open dialogues between academic and corporate researchers, philosophers, artists, designers, policymakers and citizens;
- Back to Thinking: an online podcast series of the VUB Engage, a broad participatory trajectory of the VUB.
- Reason and Engage: a university-wide course that stimulates students to reflect about controversial, contemporary issues;
- Food for Thought: a series of lunch meetings in which global, present-day issues are discussed by academics from different disciplines;
- Think-tank Poincaré: a flexible group of VUB researchers reflecting about contemporary issues, such as cities, that touch on many disciplines;
- Mindblowers: a series of performances by scientists and artists intended to inspire the public to reflect about revolutionary new ideas;
- The VUB Honours programme: selected students from all faculties debate and reflect with experts on important scientific developments and their relation to society;
- ECCO seminars: a long-running series of weekly interdisciplinary seminars and discussions organized by the Center Leo Apostel with presenters from around the world.
This component of the curriculum assumes that the students will allocate 26 hours to the participation in the seminar series of their choice and 48 hours to the assignment. Additionally, each student receives 1 hour of individual consultation.
To continuously advance, thinking must select between the possible patterns and paths, discerning ones that are more promising, less explored etc. For that, one needs to be able to observe the potentials of various stances and notice when they expand the horizons of thought. By learning to notice, observe, affirm, and celebrate the extraordinary thinking of others, the thinker develops a fundamental competence necessary for fostering the extraordinary intelligence.
‘Beautiful Minds’ is a course focused entirely on the development of the habit and skill to affirm the extraordinary quality of the cognitive performance in others. The course comprises 14 hours of workshops and 60 hours of team work dedicated to a group assignment. Each group receives a 1-hour consultation to support their study.
An integrative baseline of the programme is provided by the ‘Thinking Studio’: a series of interactive workshops conducted according to the methodology of experiential learning. The workshops provide a group learning environment for integrating the teaching and learning processes happening in the entire programme.
Special emphasis is put on the integration of the new knowledge, ideas, and skills into the unique everyday practice of each student. Towards this goal, two major (exercise and writing) assignments will be carried out.
This component comprises 26 hours of workshops, 2 hours of consultations, 52 hours dedicated to the exercises and 52 hours dedicated to writing the final reports.
VUB Research Track
In addition to the regular curriculum of the programme an alternative participation track is available for a small group of selected students and researchers of the VUB. This formula allows students and researchers of the VUB to participate in the programme with a reduced price and workload, while obtaining the full postgraduate certificate. Due to budget constraints the number of places available in this track is limited to 6 per year. The track is open to the VUB research students (MA, MSc, Phd) and VUB researchers, who are pursuing an academic study on a topic closely related to the topics addressed in our programme.
While applying, the candidates are asked to present an Individual Study Plan (ISP), which briefly describes their planned research activities and indicates which courses and activities from the general curriculum of the programme they wish to participate in. The ISP should be constructed such that it ensures collection of 22 study points, of which 14 study points through the participation in the regular components of the programme (classes, assignments) and 8 study points obtained upon successful completion of the research activities described in the ISP. The ISP proposed upon application must be accepted of a VUB-based research advisor of the applicant.
Number of students in one group: min. 16, max. 26. (Remaining unoccupied places may be transferred to the VUB Research Track.)
VUB research track
Number of students in one group: min. 0, max. 6. (Remaining unoccupied places may be transferred to the Regular Track.)
In order to successfully graduate from the programme and obtain the certificate of completion the students are required to meet the following requirements within the respective allocated timeframes (as specified by each assignment):
- Study points: minimum 27 out of 29.
- Attendance: minimum 80%.
- Pass at least 4 out of 5 online knowledge tests in the ‘Thinking about Thinking’ course (with at least 80% correct answers).
- Conclude at least 8 out of 10 writing (correspondence) assignments in the ‘Thinking Toolkit’ course.
- Complete the observation assignment in the ‘Engaged Thinking’ course (positive evaluation of the submitted report).
- Complete the assignment in the ‘Beautiful Minds’ course (positive evaluation of the interview / presentation).
- Complete the two observation assignments in the ‘Thinking Studio’ course (positive evaluation of both submitted reports).
VUB research track
- Study points: minimum 22 as specified in the ISP (Individual Study Plan, see ‘VUB Research Track‘).
- Attendance: minimum 80% applicable to the classes indicated in the ISP.
- Assignments: all applicable to the classes indicated in the ISP.
Upon successful fulfilment of the completion requirements listed in the point 4.5, a certificate of the ‘Postgraduate School of Thinking’ will be awarded by the Student Administration Centre (SAC) of the VUB, signed by the rector of the Vrije Universiteit Brussel, the director of the Center Leo Apostel VUB and the academic co-ordinator of the programme.