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My Prof Wears Velcro Shoes

Posted on January 30th, 2007

I am currently taking an Entrepreneurship class (this prof does not wear Velcro shoes), and the book for this course – Crossing the Chasm – starts off by discussing the technology adoption life cycle. In this section, I read a most peculiar thing:

“Simply put, the early majority is willing and able to become technologically competent, where necessary; the late majority, much less so. When a product reaches this point in the market development, it must be made increasingly easier to adopt in order to continue being successful. If this does not occur, the transition to the late majority may well stall or never happen.

Programmable VCRs are currently in this situation, as are high-end office copier systems, and a whole slew of telephones which offer call forwarding, three-way conferencing, or even just call transferring.”

What?! VCRs are currently in a situation where the late majority have yet to embrace it? I re-read those sentences incredulously, as if I doubted that I had just read them. But the words are exactly as I typed them. I flipped to the front to look up the publication date. My heart sank. 2006.

This prompted me to think about why I am reading such an outdated piece of literature in a course that is supposed to teach people about being leaders in the high-tech industry. On a broader scope, I also began to think about the state of the way people are taught. Here’s what I have:

The education system is one of the few things that have not been revolutionized over the course of the past couple of centuries. In general, the way people are taught at school has remained the same from generation to generation: we go to class and have someone stand at the front to tell us things and ask us questions. Sure, the introduction of the Internet has made some changes, but the vast majority of people still learn in person.

Compare this to the transportation industry and you’ll see how technology has made it a whole new beast. No longer do we have coal-engine trains taking people from city to city. No longer do we see horses and carriages on the streets in abundance. No longer do we have huge wooden vessels that sail the oceans to bring people from continent to continent. Instead, we have light-rail (electric) trains, cars, and planes.

Similar comparisons can be made to a plethora of other industries (communications, finance, and manufacturing, to name a few). If we took someone from the 1800s and brought them to 2007, they would feel completely overwhelmed with the changes in the world. Until, of course, they step into a classroom.

Does this concern you a little bit? It certainly bothers me. I mean, how have we let the way we raise new generations of people to stay the same while everything else in the world is blazing ahead? You could say that the technique is tried, tested, and true, but that does not mean that we can do better.

That said, I have no idea where the education could or should go to make it better; I am no visionary in this regard and I can offer no insight about where to look. I’m just shedding some light on what I perceive to be a problem. So here’s some food for thought. Enjoy!

2 Responses to “My Prof Wears Velcro Shoes”

  1. Smiley Dan Says:

    A quick Wikipedia and Amazon search reveals that book you mentioned was originally written in 1991, and although reprinted often, I can’t find any evidence for a revised or new edition with respect to content. However, in a way, that’s even worse – why are you reading a 1991 book in 2007? Of course, there’s the question of HOW much can a book become outdated, depending on its content…

    As for the way education happens… Well, first off, it’s really not fair to say education hasn’t gone to a revolution. It’s gone through a gender revolution (women don’t just major in home economics) and class revolution (although you could argue the oldest institutions are still out of reach of lower-income people).

    I do think, though, that in terms of how education is delivered, the last major innovation was probably correspondence education, which opened up a lot of doors for nontraditional students. And that was back in the 50s or 60s, if I’m not mistaken?

    I think education is by no means stagnant, and lots of institutions are trying new things – more seminars, course management software (WebCT/UW-ACE/etc.), etc. – but no novelty has shown it has enough benefits that EVERY university in the world needs to do it in every class.

    Anyway, I say, enjoy the traditional classroom while you can, before life’s all The Matrix and we just learn things from Nintendo cartridges. 🙂

  2. Tony Says:

    Programmable VCRs may be widespread but that doesn’t mean most people actually know how to use the advanced features. That’s largely why Tivo is so popular – it makes time-shifting easy.

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