Thursday, October 9, 2008

Education and Selling Print

In yesterday's post, I argued that the growing market for Print is no longer advertising. It's what I called the EHG sector - education, health and government. New markets emerge from technology plus new business models.

To take advantage of new opportunities, you need to understand emerging 21st century business models of the education business. To understand a new business model, step one is to understand the kernel of value in the legacy model.

Here's a slice at an ongoing message board about education. I'm responding to a participant who said first that "our universities and colleges are doing a creditable job" and second that from his point of view, the problem resides not in "stupid" students, but in "lazy" students.

And this is my response:
You say . . ."for the most part I believe our universities and colleges are doing a credible job."

That's where we disagree.

Very good point about lazy vs stupid. I think that really helps clarify the problem.

What I see is that a "credible job" in the 20th century is not good enough in the 21st. When high schools were invented in the early 1900's they had two purposes. First was to train an agricultural labor force to learn the new behaviors they needed to work in factories. Second was to filter out the hard working "smart" ones for the professions and management jobs. And then there were the elite schools, whose job was to perpetuate the elites.

My own take is the GI Bill brought in a much larger pool on which schools could do their job. Since every man who was in the War had a chance to go to college, the number of smart/hardworking ones that were filtered out was much greater. I think it's plausible to argue that this new generation of college educated ex soldiers was the real driver of the US economy in the 1950's and 60s. Just as the addition of college educated women in the 70's and 80's's helped fuel the boom of the 1990's.

In both cases there was also a great self-selection process. The smart/hard working ones took advantage of the opportunity. Others didn't.

As the economy is evolving, schools have also evolved, but a lot slower than the economy. Today the new purpose of the education business has to be to educate everyone. That could mean that the problem to be solved is exactly the laziness you point to.

My experience tells me that kids, like most of us, get lazy when they are bored or scared. Is it possible that high school makes this worse by boring and scaring our kids?

I've seen lazy/stupid kids in the classroom, spend hours practicing their jump shots on the basketball courts. I worked with one lazy/stupid high school kid in the classroom - who was headed for being drop out - become a good writer when he was engaged outside the regular classroom.

We agree that learning is the student's responsibility. Nobody can learn for you. But the new job of education is to create an environment where the chances of student learning are much, much higher. Just as I think the job of government is to support an environment in which it is easier for people to make good decisions, the job of a school is to create an environment where it's easier for students to make better decisions.

So. . . suppose our schools were organized to put more effort into helping kids identify their interests, and then give them the time and support to follow those interests. And much less time into "chalk and talk" in a classroom. I've seen lazy kids change almost overnight when they had the freedom to work, instead of sitting in a seat and listening and then take a test.

When I was teaching, the most successful experiences was setting up teams to work on real life problems. It turns out that almost everyone loves to solve problems, if the problems are real to them AND if they have the skills to solve them. It's why computer games are so popular. When the purpose of education is to create life long learners, not to pass a particular test, it's not that critical what the particular problem is.

I think that we can get the biggest bang for the buck through apprentice and interning programs. Get them into real life. The hard part is having serious mentors to guide them and point them to the resources they need to get to solve the problems they will face. There are lots of "educational theorists" who say the same thing.

Problem is that the present organization of schools leaves very little time or focus on this approach. They're too busy getting ready for the next test to "prove" they are doing their jobs. Or they are getting rewarded for all kinds of off task activities. It's only natural that the educators, "blame the customer." I've seen many dysfunctional organizations do the same thing.

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