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Eulogizing Bankruptcy and Lessons in Disruption

I went into Borders yesterday and bought a book.

Soon that sentence will no longer be a possibility. As many already know, Borders has lost it’s battle with bankruptcy and is moving into full-on liquidation. While others have done a far better job of parsing the days and ways that this came about there remain valid lessons in this case for education and other targets of market disruption.

The Relationship with the Internet

As Slate points out:

Borders famously flubbed its relationship with the Internet. From 2001 until 2008, it outsourced its online sales to Amazon, essentially handing customers over to the bigger, better site during the formative years of e-commerce.

The lesson for education?

Here is an example of outsourcing core competencies. Sites like Kahn Academy and e2020 can be valid supplemental resources for things like blended learning. But that is all that these should be supplemental resources.

Overly scripted or “curriculum in a box” programs like Read 180 can provide structure and a basis for instruction but there is an implicit message being sent to educators: We don’t trust you to handle it alone. Such prescriptive programs can lower morale but also affect the sense of community. Make no mistake, I still think that any teacher that feels that they can be replaced by a computer probably should be. But we should take care not to use web-based programs and curriculum in a way that removes learners from the community of education in a school because they will simply seek out another to be a part of instead.

The Future Is Digital and Will Need Curation

NPR comes on strong in it’s Monkey See blog with two points.

The first:

There is no other future for reading but a digital one, and getting misty about the decline of tangible books is an exercise in futility. Reading itself has never been more popular, even if formats are in flux.

The second:

Bookstores are very special places, even the behemoths. They provide a space for cultural dilettantism. You can get lost in them for hours, perusing covers and picking up obscure titles. They are dedicated to discovery and are curated by some of the most dedicated retail employees around (even to get hired at a large corporate chain, one is still required to exhibit a sharp passion for reading).

The lesson for education?

Educators have to embrace multiple forms of authorship when it comes to content for their students both in terms of source and creation. Saying that you are a digital educator because you have a PowerPoint or Twitter lesson just isn’t going to cut it. This isn’t to say that all students need to be educated to be the next Amanda Hocking – but they should be allowed the option to geo that route if their passion dictates it.

The second point brings up the salience of curation. This point concerns me the more I learn about student motivation in the face of increased accountability testing. Right now education’s focus is more “what’s on the test” than it is “what are my students passionate about learning.”

The Take-away

People have written about how much they are going to miss Borders and just as many have written about the mistakes that got Borders to this point. One could say that a series of bad decisions broke the chain. But the real take-away from an educational standpoint is that technology was either dismissed or discounted to Borders’ detriment. These are mistakes that education not only cannot afford to make but also possesses the means to surmount. If education embraces technology, and through it change, Borders will be a cautionary tale. If not it will become an outlier.

Sent from my iPad

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