One of the biggest reasons I have been and currently use a MacBook Air is that there is an elegance in the laptops simplicity and efficiency. It makes it very easy to get my work done, I don’t have to tweak anything and it seldom if every fails me. Apple makes it very easy to like their stuff. I recently went away from the iPhone to the Google Nexus because I wanted to find out why more than 80% of smart phone users world wide have chosen Android over the IOS. I have found that the greatest advantage of Android over the iPhone is that you can configure the Android to do anything you want. The biggest problem with the Android is that you HAVE to configure it to do everything you want. Granted, companies like Samsung, LG, HTC and many more have created overlays to the Android OS to provide as close to an IOS experience as possible but these systems are no where near as simple and efficient to use as the iPhone. Over the past 5 years Apple’s market share for the iPhone has be sliding only slightly because “People who like this stuff…like this stuff”.
What does this have to do with learning? A great deal when you consider the role and opportunities that technology brings to the learning environment. In the blog post Back to School—Technology Is Changing Learning, but Is It Changing Schooling? Marc Rosenberg laments:
“…that technology in our schools has come upon a significant barrier: the schools themselves.”
Rosenberg also points to the fact that regardless what opportunities technology offers the traditional schooling model won’t be undone quickly. He also warns that the fundamental change in our thinking is not coming quickly enough and
“traditional schooling may kill the promise of technology.”
Unfortunately, Rosenberg doesn’t offer any solutions to this problem but points to the blog post 5 Essential Questions to Ask Before You Innovate in Your School for those who are still willing to attempt to use technology to improve our traditional system.
Why is change in education so slow and so difficult? Because…
“People who like this stuff…like this stuff”
Godin goes onto explain that:
“…for those that are already in it, you can’t push too far, because they like the genre. That’s why they’re here.”
Those who have walked away probably aren’t just waiting around for you to fix it. Those who have never been don’t think the genre has a problem they need solved.”
If we apply this elegant thinking to the challenges we face in improving education, then most educators who like this stuff [traditional learning environments}… like this stuff. Most people who don’t, have walked away as we can see by the home schooling, unschooling and uncollege movements. Perhaps more importantly, for those (students, parents and politicians) who have never been behind the scenes of our traditional educational system there is no problem. Or the problems that they can see are simply ones that appeal to emotions like class size or special needs. These issues become hot buttons for political sound bites and the 6:00 news but sound research by people like John Hattie reveal that student achievement is not impacted significantly by class size but by many other factors that just aren’t as news worthy.
How then do we get people who like this stuff (traditional education) to like new stuff (digital learning environments)? While innovating the learning environment has been a significant challenge for the past century (John Dewey was calling for a change to progressive education almost 100 years ago) it is possible and involves the following four steps.
1 Start with Why – Simon Sinek makes the argument that, “people won’t buy what you do they buy why you do it”, so rather than telling traditional educators what they should or need to be doing to improve learning you need to provide a reason why they would want to add to or improve the current system. This has to be an emotional appeal.
2. Identify and enlist key influencers – There are key social leaders within all organizations that have the influence to bring about the small activities that can start the behavioural change that leads to organizational change. Once you can identify one or two key activities and give these influencers the reason why they should be making these changes you can start the process of implementing digital learning to enhance the traditional learning environment. Once these influencers like the new stuff they will give others reason to like the new stuff as well.
3. Install an effective execution strategy – You can’t change everything within an organization at once. You still have the whirlwind of the day to day activities that will consume 80-90% of your efforts. However, the key activities that your influencers are willing to change can become the one or two wildly important goals (WIG) that make up the foundation of the the 4 Disciplines of Execution (4DX) change process that has proven to be an effective strategy in executing organizational change. Once one or two aspects of the traditional environment are changed you can then move on to the next one or two activities and so on. The key is to have a effective strategy and to execute.
4. Enlist and empower self-differentiated leaders – Edwin Friedman in the book A Failure of Nerve: Leadership in the Age of the Quick Fix posits that having the conviction to keep on moving forward when everyone in your organization is screaming for the status quo is a key ability of the self-differentiated leader. These people do not need validation from the group but are able to see beyond the challenges to the broader goals of serving learners in new and productive ways. These people practice change by living it and have the ability to lead by example and can show people why they like the “new stuff” and why liking the new stuff is better for our learners and for our society as a whole.
This is not an easy process but we owe it to our children and to the young men and women who are going to our universities and colleges with dreams of building a better world.