The McDonald’s of Digital Age Learning? Reflections on a Steve Jobs Interview

I recently listened to the 1995 lost interview with Steve Jobs. It is full of thought-provoking comments.  As I listened, I found myself applying some of his comments to digital age education.  Regardless of whether I agree with all of his points in the interview, there is undeniable proverbial and/or symbolic truth in his words.  Here are some that caught my attention, and my thoughts about how they might apply to digital age education.

Paraphrase / Quote – 1When businesses start getting bigger, they want to replicate their initial success, and they mistakenly think that the original magic was in the process and not the content of the work.

Consider the digital age learning term that continues to dominate the news, Massive Open Online Courses.  I wonder how Jobs’s comment relates to something like that.  The “content” is more than just the content of the course, but the nature of the course design…a persistent and unswerving commitment to design a learning experience that is inspirational and provides participants with the opportunity for high-impact learning.  That requires attention to more than just processes and efficiencies.  It is more than aligning with carefully considered rubrics and checklists.

Paraphrase / Quote 2The best people are the ones who really understand the content and they are a pain to manage.

Thinking about some of the more rewarding projects in my work over the years, I can definitely relate and resonate with this.  These are people who are amazing at what they do and they have strong opinions about it.  They don’t just submit to a common process for the sake of efficiency, but are driven by the desire to create something more than a functional learning experience.  They want to create something amazing, and that may require more time and money than other methods.  And yet, these are the types of learning experiences that are worth creating…worth adding to the many vanilla learning experiences that are out there today.

Paraphrase / Quote #3 – John Sculley had the disease of thinking that a really great idea is 90% of the work, but there is tremendous craftsmanship between an idea and a product.

When I take the Strength Finder inventory, ideation is at the top of my list.  I sometimes think that I could live off brainstorming and exploring ideas.  Yet, over time, even for someone like me, it isn’t ultimately fulfilling.  I have a need to do something meaningful and significant with one of the ideas, and that takes lots of time, team, energy, struggle, and effort.  If you want to turn a great idea for teaching and learning into a great teaching and learning environment or experience, then this is what it takes.

Paraphrase / Quote #4Jobs gave a strong critique of Microsoft.  Regardless of whether I think he is right about Microsoft, his comments are powerful. “They don’t think of original ideas and they don’t bring much culture into their product.” “Their products have no spirit of enlightenment about them.”  “Microsoft is McDonald’s.”

In this exercise to apply Jobs’s ideas to my field of digital age teaching and learning, this is one of the single most powerful statement for me.  I found myself asking, “Have I sometimes been content with designing the fast food equivalent of learning experiences?”  Fast food is efficient and it meets the needs a massive and largely satisfied customer base.  However, there is not much culture in such an eating or dining experience.  I have no interest in investing my life in the fast food equivalent of digital age teaching and learning.  My passion resides with helping to design educational products, experiences, and environments that have culture and “inspiration” in them.  Yes, efficiency and other similar factors are still important, but these quotes from Jobs reminded me of something that is central to my own convictions…that design and culture matters.

Paraphrase / Quote #5Humans are tool builders and we build tools that can dramatically amplify our abilities. In a study of the efficiency of different animals with regard to locomotion, humans didn’t fare well.  However, put a human on a bicycle and they blow away the competition. The personal computer is the bicycle of the mind, and the web does the same thing for communication.

I’m still thinking through this one, but I went away from it feeling blessed to be in the field of education at this exciting time in history…to be part of the movement that is experimenting with, exploring, and designing digital age teaching and learning.