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Do the math! I have been involved in school improvement . . . educational reform . . . since the late eighties. Three decades – and counting! The educational community continues to be replete with “improvements:” from site-based management in the 80s, to standards-based in the 90s, to proficiency-based in the 00s, to now competency-based with a nod to “personalized learning.” It’s enough to make even the most resilient, forward thinking educator jaded . . . and just . . . tired.

Yet, I am still hopeful that our past tinkering efforts have given way to true transformation. Really. Entrepreneurial leaders of the day (e.g. Bezos at Amazon, Jobs at Apple, Page & Brin at Google) teach us that it’s not about buffing and shining the current, outdated system; it’s about disrupting the current system.

Disruption – leapfrogging over the current – requires different thinking. Bezos et al designed down from the ideal: the ideal reading experience . . . the ideal listening experience . . . the ideal search experience. And so, true transformation of education requires designing down from the ideal learning experience (ILX) which is based on a different function, answers different questions, and realizes different results. My purpose here is to examine this difference between the Industrial Age’s assembly line schools and a customized learning community.



The function of Industrial Age, assembly line schools (which, by the way, has been around since 1892!) has been to sort out and select talent . . . separate the men from the boys . . . who gets it and who gets it first was (is?) an important designation. In order to get to that function, time became – and still is – the constant. All Industrial Age policies, procedures, and structures served that sorting and selecting function. The underlying assumption was (is?) bell curve thinking: some are smart . . . some are kinda’ smart and, well, some are just not smart


The function of customized learning communities is to develop talent . . . to design (as those entrepreneurs have done) the ideal – the ideal learning experience for all learners. In order to get to this function of customized learning communities, time must be the variable. All structures, policies, and procedures must support the ideal learning experience to develop talent. The underlying assumption – belief – or understanding is: They all can learn, recognizing, honoring, and supporting that they learn in different ways and different time frames.



The difference is significant and quite clear. Industrial Age, assembly line schools operate from . . . design structures, policies, and procedures from . . . very different essential questions. Remember: their EQs are to support their function: to sort out and select talent. The EQs of customized learning communities signal the structures, policies, and procedures needed to support its function: to develop talent in the ideal learning experience. Take a look at the very different EQs . . . with the “answers.” Sobering on one hand to see what has been; yet hopeful on the other to know what can, will, and needs to be.



When you look at the function and essential questions of the Industrial Age, assembly line educational system, it all makes sense or used to make sense.   Or, did it really? No matter, I can see how and why it was   designed . . . oh so long ago (1892!). The difference between what was and customized learning is glaringly clear. And the results for each are predictable and, well . . . inevitable.

. . . And so the differences between what has been and what needs to be. If we don’t understand, see, and acknowledge the differences, we will spend another decade blindly buffing and shining the outdated system. Tinkering or transforming? It’s your decision . . .

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