Developing a Scientific Mindset to Improve the World of Education

Jan 30, 2021

Dun Xiao founded 17zuoye (17EdTech) to address education inequality in China using innovative technology and updated learning approaches. With over 200 million families with students in the K-12 sector in China, Dun saw how geographical and social constraints determined which students succeeded and which failed. Like Minerva, he believes that talent can be found everywhere and access to quality education should not be limited to just urban or wealthy communities. With this mission in mind, over the past nine years, 17EdTech created an online learning environment that has provided educational resources and support to over 100 million families in China. With the demands of a rapidly growing business, it is not common for a founder to take the time to go back to school — but for Dun Minerva’s Masters in Decision Analysis (MDA) program offered a unique value he could not refuse.

Dun learned about Minerva in 2014 after meeting Minerva’s Founder Ben Nelson while visiting educational startups in San Francisco. In addition to admiring Ben’s vision to build an innovative institution from scratch, Dun was particularly impressed by the curriculum and pedagogy, which used principles from the science of learning to make it more effective. As an educational entrepreneur himself, Dun connected with the idea of education as a value-oriented product and transforming teaching into a scientific process to systematically improve learning. While interested in experiencing Minerva’s pedagogical approach, curriculum, and learning environment first-hand, at the time Minerva only offered an undergraduate program.

A few years later in 2017, Dun saw Ben at the ASU+GSV Summit, an education conference, and learned about Minerva’s new graduate program, which was designed to empower working professionals with the knowledge to make decisions of consequence. Initially, Dun was hesitant to join, as he already had a Masters in Information Engineering from Cambridge University and was busy developing 17EdTech, but his curiosity prompted him to apply.

Looking back, Dun candidly shared that when he enrolled in the MDA, he did not have high hopes that he would finish the program — noting that he was preoccupied with his work. However, once classes began, Dun’s perspective quickly changed.

“One of the great merits of my MDA education at Minerva is that it really enabled me to return to the state of academic learning, which I [had] lost as a working professional for more than a decade…However, at Minerva, I became a student once again, absorbing knowledge and ideas on a daily basis through diving into massive academic publications.”

Instead of distracting him from his job, Dun was surprised by how the MDA helped him become a better leader by allowing him to empathize with 17EdTech’s target audience — the student. Seeing the benefit of online education first-hand as a remote student himself, Dun strengthened his faith and confidence in 17EdTech’s offerings and the virtual education sector as a whole.

In addition to his broadened perspective, Dun credits the MDA for helping him develop a scientific and systematic mindset. “The knowledge and skills I’ve gained during Minerva’s MDA program were extremely beneficial to my own management of 17EdTech, especially through the application of data-driven operations and strategy-making,” shares Dun. “[This] is extremely relevant to the growth of my company, which requires us to understand the differences between individuals, find factors that are the most relevant, and build models to leverage data, analyze users, and create strategies.”

Possessing an analytical mindset and understanding how to apply scientific methods is a critical skill Dun hopes every employee of his acquires — although how each person utilizes their skill set is open-ended. For example, in one assignment MDA students were tasked with explaining the concept of #networks through real-world examples. Dun chose to write about his company and its network of stakeholders, a reliable and, self-described, boring example. On the other hand, his classmate, Tomomi, listed every character in the Harry Potter novels. “I was shocked!” elates Dun, “ It never occurred to me that we could learn about #networks in such a fun and effective way. [Tomomi’s assignment] was just such an excellent and extremely creative application of #networks.”

Two years after graduating from Minerva and 17Edtech’s recent successful IPO, Dun is grateful that he invested the time to complete the MDA. While quite challenging, he believes he has grown into a decisive, thoughtful, and more communicative leader. When asked if he has any advice for young professionals considering the MDA, Dun cites Nike’s slogan — Just do it!

“The MDA Program is all about decision-making. So, if you have strong decision-making skills, then you should have already made the decision of applying to Minerva. If you are still debating about it, then it’s time for you to learn about data-driven decision-making! This should be a program that you will find very useful in both professional and personal lenses.”

If you are interested in leveling up your own leadership and decision-making skills, click here to learn more about the MDA.