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Trilateral Leadership Summit: Solving Asia’s Tough Problems

Millennials. Generation Z. The younger they get, the more precocious they seem to be. Today’s young people are growing up in the midst of what is arguably the greatest knowledge and data explosion in man’s history. How are schools guiding young people’s inclination to learn new things faster and better than ever before?

In Rethinking Asia 2: Entrepreneurship and Economic Development, John Lim of the Yonsei/Fletcher, Harvard Extension School shares several elements of a good classroom. As an educator himself, Lim shares how the use of case studies, instilling “reflection-in-action,” asking smart questions, and facilitating group learning are helping form the young, 21st century mind.

Elements of Quality Teaching and Learning

Reflecting on student results from this program, another takeaway is a reaffirmation of the universal applicability of essential elements of quality teaching and learning (which is present in all of our Center’s programs). One may be theoretically proficient in powerful frameworks such as ‘Adaptive Leadership’ or ‘Design Thinking,’ but if you are poor in facilitating learning experiences with those frameworks, then the experience is utterly useless for your student. At the end of the day, an effective instructor delivers a transformative learning experience.

Admittedly, participants are usually drawn to our programs because of our Teaching Fellows and professors’ affiliation with such institutions as Harvard. But what do people know about Harvard? Harvard has a track record of equipping its students for the future – for those with the confidence, skills, and mindsets to lead change. For starters, Harvard has produced forty-seven Nobel laureates, thirty-two heads of state, and forty-eight Pulitzer prize winners. Harvard living alums also happened to have founded 146,629 for profit and non-profit ventures accounting for a combined yearly revenue of USD 3.9 trillion, more than the GDP of Germany.

However, what matters fundamentally in a quality education is the quality of teaching and learning that can prepare one for the future. What can be easily practiced in Cambridge, Massachusetts, can be practiced in Beijing, Seoul, or Tokyo. Let us take a look at four essential elements of quality teaching and learning.


Using a broad definition of “case,” a case is any problem or challenge that is able to connect the classroom to real life. Our experience of life is not mathematical, scientific, or artistic, per se. Instead we experience it as an integrated whole. Cases are simulations, projects, and meaningful discussions that create learning environments that simulate the world as it is: complex and multi-layered.


Secondly, learning experiences require reflection activities for the purpose of helping individuals develop a continuous learning mindset. We don’t learn from experience – we learn from reflecting on experience. We do this by creating safe environments where students are challenged with continuous feedback and can honestly reflect on “failures” in the process of solving problems.

Smart Questions

Thirdly, students need to be taught the skill of asking smart questions, with the goal of independently solving new and complex problems. In order to gain perspective on a problem, you need to look at it from all angles. One example is the “IDEAS” framework: you begin with Identify (Observation), next is DE-brief (Different than expectations?), then Analyze (What were the reasons?), and finally Strategize (What do you want to happen next?) the steps in solving a problem.

Group Learning

Lastly, activities that provide platforms for group learning are needed. These allow students to learn how to build trust and create value with others. Individuals are trained to create greater value with others through collaborations rather than on an individual basis. Mechanisms in the classroom need to be set up that help individuals operate responsibly, productively, and respectfully in a democratic environment.

A New Level of Thinking

Albert Einstein once said, “We cannot solve our problems with the same level of thinking that created them.” For the world’s most intractable problems, there are no quick fixes because the solutions simply do not yet exist. In the larger scheme of things, each of these nations will not prosper to its full potential without a warm peace that enables them to collaborate on the challenges that face their country, their region, and the world. But our program shows that through enabling diverse people to come together through powerful learning experiences – to exchange ideas, widen perspectives, and take leadership initiatives – new thinking and creative solutions are indeed possible.

By John Lim