Taking on the World After School


Jun 29, 2008

Worries over the United States’s economic competitiveness in the future come from all quarters. In his op-ed titled “Taking On The World” in the April 5, 2008 Wall Street Journal, Michael Malone makes an interesting argument about how much stiffer this competition will become as more people in the world become true players in the consumer global economy over the next few years.

In his words: “Ultimately, our strongest competitive advantage is the ingenuity and entrepreneurship of the American people.”

Malone then suggests several things the government can do to encourage further entrepreneurship and retain a competitive advantage for the United States.

One of his suggestions revolves around education. He says: “Make education more open. It is time for the rest of us to accept the reality that education in the U.S. is now a multi-platform (public, private, home) experience, and begin building Web-based curricular support for all three. It is in our national interest to make all schoolchildren well-educated and competitive in the modern economy.

Why shouldn’t kids, wherever they are taught, have access to the same teaching tools, and take classes together in classrooms in online virtual worlds such as Second Life, etc.? The curriculum should be increasingly non-linear as well: Why, when mom and dad are multitasking jobs at their laptops at Starbucks, are classrooms still bastions of rigid hours and even more rigid schedules?”

It’s a compelling point and echoes many of our own conclusions in Disrupting Class. Many of the leading education progressives have been thinking along these lines and asking these same questions, too, for some time.

One of the best questions often unasked is how can we move forward toward this vision? It is not at all clear the federal government is the best point of leverage here.

Heeding the lessons of disruption by using Web-based programs and so forth to compete against non-consumption is how. This is one of the theses in Disrupting Class, particularly about how to transform schools themselves, but as Malone suggests, there is a whole part of this equation that does not occur inside classrooms.

Marc Prensky often speaks of this. One of his central points is that some of the biggest and most exciting zones of non-consumption are in what he calls “after school.” He’s spot on. As the Kauffman Foundation has observed, education entrepreneurs introducing exciting new ways to learn on the Web and through games would be well advised to think of markets outside of K12 schools to make a meaningful impact. By targeting these zones of true non-consumption, they won’t have to serve the legacy jobs for which schools were built. These legacy processes and priorities are what make true innovation so hard.

We’d love to hear from people about any zones they see that are being transformed by these disruptive innovations outside of school and how these innovations take root and operate—and then how they might transform the six-plus hours children spend in schools, too.

– Michael Horn

Michael is a co-founder and distinguished fellow at the Clayton Christensen Institute. He currently works as a principal consultant for Entangled Solutions.