What Education Can Learn from Marketing / by Chel Wolverton

Army Photography Contest - 2007 - FMWRC - Arts and Crafts - I Can See You Now I recently finished a project that has required me to skim resources that are related to kids, education and digital media skills.  It's made me ponder our educational situation here in the U.S. I'm also pondering how the generational lag between teachers and students is, in some cases, contributing to a lack of very necessary skills for students graduating and learning in a digital age. It's not a case of teachers being poorly trained but I think teachers aren’t aware of the potential resources at their disposal to help kids learn in ways that work for them as individuals.

Enter Joseph Pine. Pine is a big believer in authentic experiences.  When he spoke at TED, he demonstrated within a "marketing" framework how our culture has shifted since the industial revolution in their buying habits.  The more I consider it, the more I believe that within this framework that there are at least some the answers to educational reform lies.

Pine's framework can be summarized in the following words: commodities, goods, services, experiences.

In the 1800s, education was a commodity.  Children were taught basic reading, writing and math skills in grammar schools.  They were taught the basic skills in order to start business or manage a family business better.  The emphasis was placed on imparting enough knowledge for them to get by.

Currently, we're in a goods framework for education. Goods evolved from commodities.  Goods are mass produced and distributed without a lot of effort. A prepackaged learning system (in most public school systems) is being applied to all children in the same age group. This assumes, erroneously, that kids learn in the same way or, come to school with the same background and experiences..

Uniformity in education is laziness. Quality control = standardized tests.  Moreover, kids are not uniform widgets coming down an assembly line, so quality control as a paradigm is absurd.  We’re asking kids to recognize the right answer on a multiple choice test rather than have to understand and apply the knowledge we hope we’re teaching them in the classroom.  Tests check to ensure that laziness is working okay and the kids meet the minimum quality standards. Still, we hope, that we’re giving them enough to somehow be productive citizens, but not much more than that.

We are placing entirely too much value on the standardization of education to show us that we're succeeding. Much like human resources departments are relying on Klout.  It's a number that makes things a little easier for a group to analyze massive amounts of information and see that they are heading in the right direction.  In this case, educators analyzing how well their students are retaining the information being drilled into them, not what they need to know, which is how to apply that information in the real world...

" . . compulsory learning never sticks in the mind." - Plato

C.C. Chapman blogged about his concerns regarding our educational system, the difference in his kids learning styles and reflected on the knowledge that they are being taught the same way even though they solve problems very differently - two kids, out of the same home, the same “manufacturing plant”, but unlike widgets, needing very different things out of their education.

We're lacking a focus on the children's individual learning styles.  We're giving them something to consume but never the experience they need to make learning sticky.  In order for children to excel in the current generational realities, we need to move toward a customized style of education.  We need a system where each child is given the ability to demonstrate their knowledge using the skills they naturally have.

Following Pine's framework, the ideal in education would be meeting kids individual needs and in effect creating an experience for them.  Why an experience?  Why do so many people want and love the iPad?  Wouldn't a mini Dell do the same job for less money? Partially, yes.  The key difference is the experience.  When we pick it up and use it we can't help but be amazed at how well it works, how intuitive it is, how easy it is to use and how many of our technical problems it solves. Other products may do the same thing, like allow you to access email, but does it make the process any easier?  Not really.

Alessi's turn on the iPad

So what if we could give kids that experience in their learning environment?  Give them a customized educational experience in which they're not only learning well but excited and eager to gain more knowledge. As well as refining skills that will serve them well in the future because it plays to their individual way of thinking, to their strengths.

It's easy to imagine that if C.C.'s kids were left to solve a problem on their own, they would have unique solutions demonstrating their individuality.  Isn't it hard to imagine being told in a workplace environment that there is only one solution to a problem? (Except as a bomb squad, I think I'd follow the manual on that one.)  Not only would it be boring but when would we have the opportunity to learn something new and to add a totally different outlook to our point of view and maybe even enable our companies to be more profitable.

If we all discovered and refined our strengths that early on can you imagine how far our society, culture,  our very world would change and grow.

The blueprint for the next generation of education needs to be advanced to meet the future, now. The hardest part is making the first change.  Yes, government change is slower than molasses.  Perhaps purposely here in the U.S. but that's a serious detriment to our growth as a nation.

The next advancement is likely to be "postponed" until a newer generation of teachers are introduced into the educational system and technologies become commonplace and teach different skills. In the meantime, we're lagging behind and disabling our children by limiting them only to the goods level of education.

What do we need to do as instructors, educators, parents and government to bring our children past the goods and create a world full of knowledge to experience?