July 15, 2007

How can schools join the experience economy?

This post was last updated on September 5th, 2011 at 11:05 am

Friday’s headline article from Reuters, “Wii could top record-holding PS2” reminds me of B. Joseph Pine and James H. Gilmore’s book “The Experience Economy: Work Is Theater & Every Business a Stage”. I have not purchased or read the book yet, but I’m intrigued by this idea that our economic landscape can increasingly be described as “an experience economy” where people are more likely to pay for an actual “experience” more than just a cheaper product or widget. The Wii and the iPhone both come to mind as products which seem crafted for the consumers of the experience economy.

seated teacher lecturing at the chalkboard

How can schools be changed to join the experience economy? In his book “The Children’s Machine: Rethinking School in the Age of the Computer,” Seymour Papert observes that before they enter formal schooling children commonly display self-directed learning behaviors. Once kids begin formal schooling, however, adults essentially tell young people to stop experiencing their world and directing their own learning, and instead sit passively in their desk and read about it. Papert notes schools tend to emphasize the development of “lettracy” rather than “literacy,” which he (and I) conceive of as including a broader set of communication and learning modalities than text-based reading and writing.

I’m not sure what the answer to this question is, but I am certain most young people WANT their formal schooling experiences to become more interactive and experiential. We’re living in the postmodern world, and while we can debate at length both what that means and whether it’s good, the fact is students are increasingly accustomed to life in an “experience economy” outside school– and when they are inside formal classrooms they often find themselves feeling out-of-place in a traditional, largely passive, lecture-based environment.

One of the greatest challenges we face is helping teachers change their own paradigms of thinking about learning. It is much easier to lecture and provide information rather than facilitate project-based learning. Administrative expectations need to change broadly for a school or school district to move into a more “experiential” mode of learning.

What do you think can and should be done to help teachers as well as administrators embrace and EXPECT more experiential forms of learning in our classrooms?