Education Transformation End-Point: The Age of Experience

LeiLani Cauthen

Where are we headed, anyway? What is the end-point of the digital transformation for K-12 education? 

The Learning Counsel has been in fifteen metro areas so far in 2014 meeting with public and private sector K-12 executives. There's nothing quite like live meetings for nuance. You get a feel for the politics and tenor of things. 

We have called the 2014 events the "Digital Curriculum Strategy Discussions" and found that those four words are magic words. By themselves these words as email subject line have drawn three-times what we expected for audience into attending our one-day events in every city -- Superintendents, Chief Academic Officers, and Chief Information Officers. Two States even granted the events continuing education units. Educators drove for up to four hours from close by the Canadian border to attend in Minneapolis, from the Atlantic coast to get to Columbia, South Carolina, from Sacramento and Napa Valley to get to the Santa Clara, California event, and more. 

Other organizations have marveled at our "draw," and so have we. This is not normal to get the sheer scale of executive attendance we have gotten nor the growth of 51,000 followers on our newsletter list in less than a year. 

At one point I was compelled to ask, will this magic last? I've been in the Ed Tech Industry for many years helping companies with effective marketing reach in magazines and events I have led. My market direction advice has been relied on by some of the biggest corporations in the nation. Yet, I've never seen results like this before. 

I think the magic of this trend will last and here is why: 

(1) We are not normal and neither are you, anymore. 

We are not just talking about things news like other media organizations. we are gently guiding, agnostically. We have focused on organizational transformation and not just the next act for teaching and learning. Also, the whole industry left "normal" in mid-2013. That's when the U.S. surpassed the 50% mark and started barreling towards near-saturation of digital devices in student's hands with either 1-1's or significant access at some point during the school day. The conversation suddenly shifted. 

(2) We've centered our discussion on the major pain point now - the digital curriculum and content. 

There are thousands of digital curriculum providers now when there used to be a handful. This is swamping education organizations and shutting out a lot of tech and digital curriculum vendors because the people are so overloaded. Many digital curriculum companies are "end-running" the decision makers and acting like consumer-marketers, targeting the teacher levels and selling there. Some are ignoring the institutions entirely and targeting consumers directly. 

(3) We are introducing the idea of an end-point. 

We have shared a vision for where the bulk of the market is going and how fast. We have included a continuum and find that educators and most everyone else agrees to the logic of it. Education executives are grateful for the practical administrative tool of our Workbook, a special handout only available at our events. 

Education executives are relieved to have an end-point in view because they don't want to keep shifting the pieces and parts of their operations around indefinitely, guessing as to workability. 

Continuous disruption has a feeling of having some deep wrong that can't be named. Change is needed but disruption is something more. 

As a leader myself, I name continuous disruption as destruction of the organization. When you enter too much change into the thin threads that hold together a working organization of people and things, you can wreck productivity and morale. The whole enterprise can wither and die. This happens to companies all the time when some new competitive force hits their market or industry, but it is alien to the thoughts of most people in education. They cannot conceive of not having their industry, and yet they feel they are losing all sense of order. And they are. Federal compliance requirements, new testing, new standards, mass retirements, a giant population of students, economic pressure, and urgency to integrate technology make for one wild ride for any leader - especially those who are not trained or apprenticed in any kind of business or programmatic execution and have mostly risen from training as a teacher only. 

Look, we just had a preponderance of candidates running for office on the platform of "fixing education" all over the country. The fevered pitch of it matched that preceding Obamacare. It is foreboding for any education leader. 

At our Fresno, California event this year, Kurt Madden, CIO of Fresno USD said, ""The hardest part is really a culture shift...I think our window of opportunity is only a few years." I completely agree with Kurt. 

The Learning Counsel has advanced this Market Activity Continuum, humbly and with a degree of apprehension it might not all come to pass. We might still miss the great gift advanced technologies really could be to education in actual transformation.

Strategy Flow Diagram



There will be a couple of years of Strategy now that computing devices are de rigueur. This will be strategy the way we are now defining it, as an organizational motion and not individual random motions with random answers to dozens of unaligned questions about how to be or how to meet standards. Leaders will rise up, and have been appearing as points of light all over the country. There is a lot of depth to the strategy conversation. 


After setting goals and programming out a strategy, there will be a couple of years of tactics arguments. These will be over the utility of the pieces of things, like what file standards should be used and what types of curriculum software features work the best. Tactics conversations will rage forever after, but there will be a couple of years of heavy discussion about all the things, who should have what things, who should make the things (public or private), the missing things that need to be built, and the things that fall away as useless. 


Schools will run into all kinds of archaic legislation, faulty funding lines and old policies that will have to be overturned to have a bit more breathing room for a transformation. Some of this has already gone on, but with this continuum we're talking about the motion of the bulk of the market. The next elections may force this faster. In any case, there will be a couple of years where top policies will be altered and conversation will center on these issues. 


Sometime soon, many schools and many private industry partners will have accrued awesome amounts of data and will be using it in alarming and edifying ways. There will be a rise in concern that so many organizations and teachers are not trained in analytics and this will become a fascinating discussion point. Possibly surprising and saddening things will have happened with accrued big data and force more new legislation by this time. There will be a few "analytics years," though, because at that point the data will be used on a vastly more significant scale by everyone just like we all use email today. 


Schools will move towards a well-designed institution and instructional model such that their streamlined and innovative approach can be articulated easily and marketed for student recruitment purposes. How well a whole school or program is "Designed" will be contextualized as if by professional marketers for best appeal in a highly competitive landscape - just like colleges have had to do. Private industry is already well underway in the "Design Economy," with newly non-linear manufacturing models and boutique services firms. The Information Age is already in the rear-view mirror and a seamless underlayment to everything else. Education will be joining the Age of Design. In these years a tangible shift in how institutions communicate and articulate themselves as parts of a community, real or virtual, will become apparent. This could also be called the Golden Age of School Administration such that a new higher level of executive skill will enter in. 


After the Design Age comes the Age of Experience. Schools will level-up from design to education-as-experience with online and physical interactions so artfully crafted together and personalized that the life-journey of the student will be mapped and adjusted with consummate ease. Some might just call this "personalized learning," but I think the world is going someplace with education much greater. European nations already have a methodology for adapting to students with early tests. The U.S. might beat Europe out in the digital transformation to learning/experience, though, because we are rich in industry examples. 

Not familiar with the idea of the Age of Experience? With the rise of Amazon, Google, Apple, Facebook and Microsoft battling for collections of devotees, big business has entered a level of branding and product that is self-evidently called "Experience." Disney is the high watermark brand of this concept. If you've been to Disneyland, you've had an experience. If you've joined Amazon Prime you know that they will send you emails at midnight to see if you will rate one of the movies you just streamed off their site. Facebook and send all those nifty birthday reminders to keep engagement at a high whine, capturing attention to capture everything else you do. All of these brands, as cultural phenomena, provide valid clues for where education will need to arrive as an end-point - and not because it is an ideal but because it will be an expectation driven by other consumer experience. This is no different than the tablet revolution, which happened first to shift consumer culture. 

The structure of education upon arrival by any institution to this loosely-defined end-point is in question, but the function will have been modified. Since form typically follows function, we have some interesting years ahead.

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