The End of ‘School’ as Usual…

… a new breed of consumer [student] is emerging – and they’re changing the very foundation of business [school]. Brian Solis

Applying business principles to academia at one time was taboo. Mentioning terms such as return on investment (ROI), customer focus, target market, would be met with blank looks – the deer-in-the-headlights syndrome. I can vouch for this. When I transitioned from a corporate environment to an educational one several years ago, I sensed that the business way of doing things was not quite fitting. However that mindset is becoming passé. Colleges now appear pressured to become more business like, to sell themselves. As a result many are employing sizeable marketing departments and hiring executives from Fortune 500 companies to do it for them (Glazer and Korn, 2012) and well, acting like a business.

Along with these developments, we’re beginning to see more and more business like discussions in the media about higher education. What will happen to education when these terms become the new buzzwords? In this post I’ll share why school is coming to an end as we know it and, more importantly what educators can do about it.

What does this mean for Educators?
What might the collision of two worlds – business and education mean for educators? Should we be concerned?  A week ago I would have said no. But since reading Brian Solis’ latest book, The End of Business as Usual, Rewire the way You work to Succeed in the Consumer Revolution, I’m not so sure. From the inside jacket cover of the book

The End of Business as Usual explores each layer of this complex consumer revolution that is changing the future of business, media and culture. As consumers connect with one another, a vast and efficient information network takes shape and begins to steer experiences, decisions, and markets. It is nothing short of disruptive. (Solis, 2012)

End of School as Usual
As I was reading the book I found myself nodding in agreement in several places. I began to highlight key points. As I read more, I started making notes. I soon realized that a vast number of the [business] principles Solis wrote about applied to education.

The End of Business as Usual, Rewire the way you work to succeed in the consumer Revolution could just as well be titled The End of School as Usual, Rewire the way you work to Succeed in the Student Revolution.

The concepts that Solis presents in his book speak to recent changes in consumer behaviors that are driven primarily by social media and 24/7 Web access. Though Solis’ audience is businesses, I realized these worlds are coming together. Education, business and social places are becoming one massive intertwined network. Students, customers, educators are no longer working and communicating within silos. Learning is not confined to a physical place, the school building any longer.  ‘Business’ is not confined to one place either. And certainly socializing is not confined to coffee shops, parties or F2F gatherings.

These changes are having a drastic impact on business and education. Below I’ve summarized just a few key ideas that Solis discusses that illustrate why the end of school as usual is just around the corner.

  • Digital Darwinism: Controlling your way to Obsolescence: The web is creating a network that is influencing society, resulting in a new global culture. The effect of connected consumers [or students] reverberates across markets and societies online and offline. Solis states that consumers are becoming connected to one another like never before. The connectedness (sound familiar? Think Stephen Downes connectivism) creates ‘customer centricity’, which is at the heart of Solis calls for – an adaptive business model (page 13).
  • Social Networks as Your Personal Operating System (OS):  Facebook or other social platforms began as social networks, but have become places where people connect and live. Billions of people  on a daily basis will meet, discuss, share, chat and interact online. Solis suggests that if businesses fail to adapt to this phenomenon, they will become irrelevant (pages 20 – 21). We know what happens next. Educational institutions need to stay relevant.
  • Adaptive Business Models: Uniting Customers [students] and Employees [faculty, administration] to Build the Businesses [schools] of Tomorrow, Today:  Reading chapter 18 [title above] really hit it home. Solis states that “businesses must start to construct a unified experience that addresses needs of all consumers, online and offline” (page 245). I suggest this statement is relevant for Higher Ed if we replace the word consumers with stakeholders. I believe one of the divisive issues facing Higher Ed institutions today is online learning and how it fits, or doesn’t fit in with traditional education. The battle rages on.

My favorite story that Solis shares in his book is about Dell computers. As part of the redesign of Dell’s strategy after nearly going bankrupt in 2006, Dell created a ‘social media listening command center’. This center manages the inflow of customer communication across social media channels providing service accordingly (page 263).  Imagine if a college had a ‘social media learning command center’? Sign me up for that job.

So What? What can educators DO about it?
What can we do, really?  Of course it depends on where you are working, and at what level, but I do believe we can do something about it. We can create a new school as usual. Below are my suggestions.

  • Create a small group of colleagues to discuss ‘change in education’. Perhaps a weekly lunch meeting for one month.  Suggest a relevant topic to explore and discuss each week.
  • Participate in a MOOC. If you have yet to experience a MOOC, enroll in one as a student.  Invite other colleagues to join you.
  • Enroll in the Current/Future State of Higher Education, an open and online course (MOOC).
  • Keep the learning outcomes in mind. It is not the learning outcomes that need to change – but it is how we get there.
  • Be adaptable.
  • Be responsive.
  • Become an agent of change OR a supporter of the change agent.
  • Ask questions that challenge the status quo. What would happen if…

So much to think about and so little time. Yet change is just around the corner – it’s coming whether we are ready or not. It can choke us or it can challenge and invigorate. Change can create something new and better. It does not have to be the end, but a start to something new and great.

Resources:
Brian Solis, Books
Current/Future State of Higher Education, An Open Online Course
Marketing Pros: Big Brand On Campus, WSJ, E. Glazer and M. Korn
Blackboard Inc.: The Rise of the New “Online Learning” and the Race for Profits, Jim Farmer, e-Literate

Photo Credits:
End. By mrjoro’s photo stream on Flickr.
Digital Darwinism. By Brian Solis on Flickr.
Earthshot New Beginning. Jusni Nasirun on Flickr.

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