Developing your customer is as important as developing your product

We read this week about the UNC Learning Technology Commons, a “system-wide effort to curate an annotated catalogue of digital learning products available for accelerated purchase by the 20,000 faculty members of the UNC system…”  It is being powered by the LearnTrials platform, of which EyeLevel is a big fan.  It is an exciting new venture to help educators find, share, rate, and purchase digital learning materials.  A victory for professors everywhere!  Or, at least, we hope it is.

This is another innovative partnership/company designed to help educators find and access educational technology and training.  Whether it is UNC, WiseWire, Bloomboard or Teachers Pay Teachers, we are on our way to changing how educators find, share, and purchase (or not) materials for their students.  However, talk to any publisher representative on any day, and she will tell you that most of her professors still don’t make use of digital tools.  Sure, there is an LMS and yes, the instructor posts his syllabus and of course, there are power points but many of our educators are far away from the transformational teachers who would benefit from these curation tools.    

Over the years we have seen many innovative institutional partnerships—many that were greeted with much initial fanfare—fall by the wayside for the same reason:  They did not develop their users—the teachers—and in turn, their customers didn’t embrace the product.  These top-down initiatives are hailed by administration, fitting rationally into the buckets of “reduces costs” and “reduces time.”  However, to the majority of instructors, neither of these perceived needs are enough to make them change their behavior—to actually transform their teaching to take advantage of digital tools.  Successfully blending a course or teaching online is a different pedagogical approach to teaching and learning than that of a traditional lecture/assessment model.  It requires that teachers think about their role differently and start to turn over the responsibility of learning to the students—moving from the “sage on the stage” model to a “guide on the side” model.  That might sound easy to do but the lecture/assessment model reinforces the one-to-many approach of teaching.  And let’s face it; that model has worked for years and years.  Couple that with a dire lack of flexible teacher training around new teaching and learning approaches and moving from traditional to hybrid is even more difficult.  More importantly, instructors don’t have an incentive to transform their teaching in order to take advantage of “time and money saving solutions.”  Finally, there is the undeniable fact that the majority of our community college and first year undergraduate instructors are part time/adjunct faculty.  So, simply put, the end users—the most important link to the success of these innovative solutions—don’t have the time, the incentive, or the know-how to move to hybrid teaching and learning. 

If you build it, will they come?  If you are not developing your customer as you develop your product, you will be in for a surprise.