02 — Who we are

Teaching for the 21st Century

About Prof. Marcel Salathé

Marcel Salathé is the academic director of the EPFL Extension School. Educated in Basel and Zürich, Marcel spent many years with one leg in academia and one leg in the tech industry, and eventually moved to the US where he lived for eight years (three of which in Silicon Valley). In 2015, he returned to Switzerland as a professor at EPFL, where he heads the Digital Epidemiology Lab.

The world is changing. Everywhere you look, things are not the way they used to be. In the past few decades, technology has changed almost every aspect about the way we work and live. But curiously, when you walk into a school or a university, you’ll often find that time seems to have stood still. In education, so much is exactly the way it used to be. Sure, students now use laptops, course material can be downloaded from online servers, and in more progressive institutions, the videos of the course instructor teaching the course may even be accessible online. But fundamentally, things are still the same. There is still a blackboard; students still have to be physically present in the same classroom with the teacher; they still are all in about the same age bracket; and they’re still learning the same things their parents learned.

Some of this inertia is good. After all, some knowledge doesn’t expire quickly. Newton’s laws are still the same they were four hundred years ago and they will be the same in four hundred years. But what is true in mathematics or physics is not true in more applied fields, especially in technology. And while most educational institutions were created with the idea of "learn once, use for the rest of your life", the reality today is that many critical skills that we need in our work are changing so rapidly that they require continuous updating - in other words, lifelong learning. None of this means that school are doing it wrong; it simply means that there is now much more demand for rapidly changing skills than the traditional education system can provide. The EPFL Extension School is here to respond to that demand.

We know that our learners are looking for skills that they can’t necessarily get at the schools where they got their first education. We know that many of our learners have jobs and families, or other commitments - they can’t afford to go back to a physical school, sitting in a classroom all day long. This is why we are an "online first" school. We teach skills that we know are in great demand, and we teach them in a way that makes learning as flexible as possible. From many years of experience in online education, we also know that, sometimes, you actually do need a real person to help you - we all get stuck at times! That’s why we’re providing personal support in those moments when you need it the most. We know that while our learners want to take advantage of flexible learning through online platforms, they don’t want their digital data to be shared with unknown third parties, and they don’t want to be monetised, which is why we are very serious about privacy and transparency. And last but not least, we know that our learners want to learn from a trusted source, and from one of the best schools in the world. It’s in our name.

Professor Marcel Salathé, Lausanne, November 2017