Mar 11, 2012

J460. A Thought On How We Learn. A Disruptive Eduction.

Recently I was assigned to read Luke William's book, "Disrupt. Think the Unthinkable to Spark Transformation in Your Business." The book encourages people to think in disruptive ways - not the kind of disruptive that breaks cars, rather the kind that fixes things that are broken. In the below video he explains that disruptive thinking is"a way of thinking that basically turns consumer assumptions and expectations upside down and can take an entire industry into its next generation." 



For those of you who don't enjoy watching videos and/or procrastinating, here's what you missed:

We're talking about taking an industry in an entirely new direction. When competitors catch up, run in the other direction and break out of any conventional habits/patterns. I never realized there were so many because I always just accepted that that is just what works. To put this in a business perspective, think about soda: it's cheap, advertised as aspirational, and tastes good. Then think about Red Bull: it's expensive, advertised as functional, and tastes horrible. It was a raging success because it didn't follow any patterns of typical soda. Red Bull became the leader in the energy drink category and soon many companies tried to emulate the drink and its profitable success.

Now think about Zipcar. It did the same thing. Conventional car rental rules: rent car by the day, lots of paperwork, speak to salesperson. These habits were flipped on their head by the new industry leader and a gap was filled: rent car by the hour, no paperwork, don't see the customer. Boom! Reinvented industry.

Sienfeld did the same thing. Suddenly there was a sitcom where people didn't hug it out at the end of each episode and learn some great new moral value. I've seen every episode multiple times. I'd call that a success. 

To be the next Zipcar or Red Bull, someone must find a gap in an industry that has been functioning the same since you could remember and experiment with filling the gap. Disrupting for disrupting sake is annoying so Williams concludes that "it needs to be disruptive in ways that creates value for consumers."

So now we'll think about education, which I know a lot about considering I'm in my third year of college. I'm in the midst of higher ed and have been aware for quite some time that from the time we enter school around age 6 to the time we leave college around age 21, we are taught in the same way. 

The rules: 
go to class because you will be docked if you're not there 
no laptops or cell phones 
class is held multiple times per week 
during the day 
one (maybe two) hours long 
regular quizzes and homework 

OK - NOW LETS DISRUPT IT! The class I read Williams' book for did. It's taught by the wonderful Dave Allen, the Director of Insight and Digital Media at the ad agency, North, in Portland. His British accent makes us smile and giggle while his ongoing talks (and by talks, I mean rants) about the misuse of digital media for marketing keeps us awake.  

Just so ya know what he looks like and so you can spot him at a local Portland pub or at his SXSW panel (too cool), here's what he looks like:
Hint: usually, he doesn't wear a parka, he does wear custom black leather chucks (everywhere, they may be his only shoes), and he does have some awesome/intense arm tattoos. Keep your eyes out.

New rules:
go to class because you want to be there
open use of laptops and cell phones is welcome
class is once a week
during the evening 
three hours long (6-9pm)
no quizzes, no regular homework

This classroom situation works to promote learning, not because we're forced to and won't remember the info longer then the next quiz, but rather because we want to learn and we'll retain the info better and longer. As students, we take what we want from the class. For some, that's not much because it's easy to spend that time learning about friends of friends on Facebook, tweeting, or doing homework for other classes if you bring a computer. Or you can simply decide to not waste your or the teachers time if you're not going to stay focused and not come (I would prefer that, seeing as I wouldn't have to watch you scroll through Facebook photos of people I don't know).

Those students are only cheating themselves (God... I sound like my dad). They're paying a high price for a four credit class to learn insights from a leader in the world of advertising. Why the fuck wouldn't you listen?!?!

There are other students who are there to learn and who will take away as much as they can from the class. They will form a lasting relationship with Dave who may one day be able to give them a job or introduce them to someone who can. They will also not be wasting thousands of dollars on college classes.

It's a disruptive way of teaching, and in my opinion, it works. The people who come to class are generally the people who want to be there and they can only gain from it. The people who aren't there, clearly don't want to be and it isn't the teacher's responsibility to kick them out or penalize them (except with a poor grade). Computers and cell phones can be used in a positive way in a classroom setting. For us journalism (advertising) majors, it can't hurt to tweet about the wisdom that's being dished out.

Thanks Dave, 
For disrupting the habits of education. 
It was much needed and much appreciated!

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