I was on an international flight the other day doing a long haul across the Pacific Ocean. It was aboard a new 767 that had been fitted out with personal entertainment screens in the back of every seat. Last time I flew on this particular airline they had a single large screen that showed one movie to everyone, but on this flight I had a choice of about 20 movies, as well as music and games, all accessed by a touch screen in front of me. I watched a few movies on the flight and found it was a much better way to absorb the long flight than the previous situation of sitting through a single screening of a pre-selected movie that I probably never even wanted to see in the first place. In fact, last time I recall being on a flight with a one-size-fits-all movie screening, most people, including me, were not even watching it.
On this flight however, as you can see in the photo, there are a few important differences. Firstly, most people were watching a movie. And not the same movie mind you, but different movies. Everyone was free to make whatever movies choices they liked. The airline didn’t care what movie you watched so long as you were entertained and happy, that was all that really mattered. The engagement factor was high too… very few people were just sitting doing nothing. Unlike the idea of everyone having to watch the same thing at the same time and the subsequent disinterest level for many people, most of the passengers seemed to be watching a movie and staying engaged with the process. They watch a movie because they want to, not because they have to.
For the airline, the cost of upgrading the aircraft to provide everyone with a personal entertainment system would not have been a cheap exercise. It would certainly have been much cheaper and easier to simply retain the old system of showing one movie to everyone at the same time. Like it or lump it. Hey, you’re on the plane to get from point A to point B right? You’re not there to watch a movie! What would it matter to the airline if your boredom factor was a little high for a while? It’s not like you can walk across the Pacific instead right? So why do they do it? Why do they bother spending the extra money to build a system that keeps their passengers happy?
They do it because happy passengers are repeat passengers. They fly with you again and again. They like you. They tell their friends. They become loyal. They buy-in to what you are offering…
Observing all this got me thinking about how it might relate to education. In schools, we have traditionally had the equivalent of a single movie screening. Kids turn up to school and we serve them a syllabus based on what is easiest for the system to deliver. They all get the same content at the same time, delivered more-or-less the same way. They progress through the grades at the same pace. We don’t bother to ask them what they already know, or what interests them, or what they’d like to learn about. We just force-feed them the content that we think they ought to know at that point in their school lives, and then act all surprised when they become disengaged from the process.
We need to take the same approach the airline took. We need to realise that if we want to “keep our customers” – to get our kids to engage with the learning and to buy-in to what we are offering them – then we need to figure out how to make school a more personal, more relevant, more choice-driven experience. We have to offer ways for them to engage with content they are interested in, to allow them to work through it at their own pace, and to give them enough choice in the process so that they feel a sense of personal responsibility for that engagement. We’d like them to do the “school thing” because they want to, not because they have to.
Like the airline, it would be far easier for schools to keep showing the equivalent of one-time screenings of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. But it’s only a matter of time before our customers just refuse to fly with us because the experience is just too painful. We need to think about how we can give kids their own “personal entertainment system” experience in the classroom, giving them some choices and putting them in some sort of control over what they do.
It’s All About Choices by Chris Betcher is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.