Monday, August 26, 2013

The Business of School


The Business of School

While listening to an interview with Doc Searls on the podcast Triangulation, I decided to try to write the blog post that has been rattling around in me for a year. I have been reading, listening and watching: thinkers, authors, business leaders and educators talk about the changes that are happening and will happen in the way societies and economies function as the world moves from the Industrial Age to an Information/digital Age.  What I want to focus on is the changes that have to happen in education. So if education has been modeled on the assembly lines and top down business structure of the Industrial Age, how do we model education on the structure of the Information Age?
Doc Searls’s interview with Leo Laport was about his new book  The Intention Economy. So what is the Intention Economy? As Searls says at a South by Southwest speech
It is standard in business to talk about “acquiring,” “capturing,” “locking in,” “owning” and “managing” customers as if they were slaves or cattle. In the Internet Age, shouldn’t we be free to set our own terms, control our own data, and even state the prices we are ready to pay—outside of any company’s silo? And haven’t free customers been a promise of free market as well as the Internet from the start?
Essentially what he is saying is that “Free customers are more valuable then captive ones”. Consumers are becoming free agents.  As consumers have more say in what, when and the price they pay for goods and services, companies will have to find way to meet customer needs on the fly. Which means that companies will have to have workers that are flexible problem solvers who don’t need to check the a higher authority before meeting the customers needs. A company that embraces the Intention Economy is Zappos, the shoe retailer now owned by Amazon, is know for selling happiness and at the same time shoes. This is the opposite of the Industrial Age worker.
If the education system is to prepare children for the work force of the Information Age the  first change we need to make is a new definition for student. In the industrial model students are seen as products. Raw product is put in one end of the school factory, 1st grade, and finished product comes out the other end, 12th grade. The school factory is divided into work stations according to the students age where students are worked on to modify their performance. If a student’s performance does not meet the school factory standards the student is identified as defective and may be taken off the school factory assembly line to be given extra attention and modification. This school factory model has worked fairly well for millions of students as long as the predominate economic and social system was industrial based. But, now that many countries are transitioning to economies that are based on processing information and providing services how will the school factory model meet the needs of the new economy?
In an Intention Economy the customer (student) has more power to select the products and services (education)  provided by business (schools). This is already starting to happen in higher education with many online colleges offering quality affordable education. If the student is seen as the customer instead of a product what new education systems will develop to meet the needs of this new customer?
This is not an easy answer and I will explore ideas in following blog posts.

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