What post-16 education might learn from the software industry
A year ago I wrote about the future of work in a world of robots. I highlighted the need for schools to think differently about what they were teaching. I spoke about the importance of teaching young people to become fast learners, to adapt quickly to change and to get comfortable with being uncomfortable. (Since the only thing we can be truly certain of is that the future is going to be different. And full of robots.)
However, WHAT to learn is only part of it. The rest of this article covers a new approach to HOW to learn that I’ve lifted straight from the software industry.
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Software As A Service (SaaS) is a business model which offers software licenses and products on a monthly subscription basis, rather than as a one time payment.
This model has become popular recently because it allows software companies to continuously improve their product while avoiding the tedious cycle of customers paying for upgrades, feeling disgruntled and moving to a competitor.
No long contracts, start/stop at any time on a monthly basis. It usually involves customers getting a trial period, or a limited free service to get started.
So I thought: I wonder what would happen if schools started doing something like this?
How might it work? What would it mean? Would it give us any meaningful benefits, or would it be just an exercise in divergent thinking!
And here’s where I got to:
What if students could start and stop at any time of year without disrupting the system?
What if there were different levels of student membership? Like Gold, Silver, Bronze, each giving different access to services.
What if our school followed the Freemium business model? (Where basic services are provided free of charge and premium services are paid for.)
Now the big question
Given that our students study a formal A Level curriculum, could the study programme be adjusted to fit in with this general approach?
So, last September we set about seeing whether methods of learning could be designed in such a way as to enable this to happen.
Problem 1: Continuous Enrolment
Let us first consider the issue of students starting at any time of year. The real problem to solve is therefore one of students all being at different points in their learning journeys. How would we cope with students joining in November? January? April? Wouldn’t they have missed a few months of school and be forever behind? How would they catch up on the topics they’d missed?
How could we really deliver the whole subject curriculum in a month, and then repeat it month after month without anyone getting bored?
The solution to this problem is no less than a revolution in learning theory.
Conventional theories of learning maintain that the teacher must first establish where the students are now, and move them incrementally along their respective learning journeys until they arrive at their destination: the ability to secure target grades in a final examination.
It’s a bit like you are asking students to build a puzzle without giving them the picture they’re trying to make. Every lesson you give them a piece of the puzzle and eventually, by the end of the year, you hope they’ve got enough pieces to build the whole puzzle.
The problem with this method is that even though you feel nice and confident with each additional piece, you can’t build the whole puzzle until the end of the year. You don’t really have any idea of what it’s going to look like until you get to the end. You didn’t have the map.
Our method does precisely the opposite which is why we call it Reverse Learning.
You get all the pieces on day one. Plus the map. The challenge is that it’s HARD to build the puzzle even when you have all the pieces as it’s all new to you. You don’t know what the pieces mean, but you begin to see how they all fit together. So you have a go, work through it, use the map and all the while your brain has an idea of where you’re going.
Next month you get all the pieces again. This time you’re a little faster. By month 5 you really know what you’re doing and you slot everything into place with remarkable ease.
This approach works so well because your brain has a very clear idea of what you’re trying to achieve, where you’re planning to end up. And crucially, it makes no difference to the class whether this is your first ‘pass’ through the subject or your 10th. The set work is the same.
At the beginning of every month students get a set of past papers, mark schemes, examiners reports and masterclasses to go through worked solutions to the papers.
Each successive month they get a different puzzle. A different set of past papers. If this is your 10th pass, you might be expected to go faster than on your 9th or your 8th, but it makes no difference to the content of the class.
This allows students to start and stop on a monthly basis without fuss or bother.
Problem 2: Different Levels of Membership
The next thing we looked at was to what extent we could really have students accessing different levels of service that would justify different monthly payment plans.
And so we thought this:
Why not put our entire catalog of masterclasses online, available free of charge? This is the free offering: worked solutions to A Level past papers by subject experts.
Then we have an entry level paid plan. Students can engage remotely with our subject experts through our online chat-based platform where they can get help with answers to specific questions and clarification from the worked solutions etc. from the masterclasses.
Then we begin the physical attendance plans.
1. First we have a drop-in plan. Students can pay a monthly amount that allows them to attend any of the masterclass sessions in a drop-in basis. It’s just like a gym membership. You can go whenever you want. No need to pre-book but of course there is a chance that the classes will be oversubscribed. So get there early!
2. Then we have a 3 day plan. Students attend 3 full days per week; the Monday Start-up, the Friday Wrap-up and any other day on campus, with all the masterclasses available on a drop-in basis. The academic studies are completed from 10-1pm and the entrepreneurial activities from 2-5pm. Masterclasses run from Monday to Thursday between 5 and 8pm.
3. And finally you have the 5 day plan which is a full time traditional model.
That’s just a glimpse into how we are launching our EaaS model from September 2017 at the Cambridge Leadership College.
We are offering scholarships to all EaaS plans and would be delighted to receive applications for scholarships by 30 June 2017.
Please email at the address below to apply for a scholarship.
We teach A Levels and a Foundation course alongside entrepreneurial thinking through setting up your own businesses.