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Jobs to be Done in the Education Industry

Chris Spiek // 02.29.12

Is education really a “job” if the student is forced or prompted to consume it in the way that we’ve designed it?    There are a lot of great start-ups in the education space that are attempting to answer this question as they roll new products out into the market.

How can start-ups in the education vertical apply the Jobs-to-be-Done Framework to their products if the student’s consideration set is pre-determined for them?  Should we focus on the teacher’s jobs, the student’s jobs, the administrator’s jobs?

This week we unpack each of these questions and discuss how JTBD can be applied in education.

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Hey, this is Doug Crets. We’re talking again on Jobs-to-be-Done Radio. We’re here with Chris and Bob. It’s been another week. Thank you, guys, for joining us. Good to see you guys here again. Today, my thoughts are I wondered if Bob could right my ship here and tell me if I’m on the right track or if I’m on the wrong track.

I was thinking education and I was thinking about how education in the public school system K-12 is like an obligatory forced product.

I was wondering, could you even use Jobs-to-be-Done theory to think about education since kids are required to go to school. They are required to learn. How do you do Jobs-to-be-Done theory if the product isn’t in a choice set? It’s more, “This is what you have to do. You have to go to school every day and get it done”?

Is that something off limits for Jobs-to-be-Done or am I thinking about Jobs-to-be-Done in the wrong way?

Bob:                          No. The thing is, as much as you can say education is obligatory there are many choices that the kids have to make along the way. The fundamental premise of Jobs is that people want to make progress. Kids want to make progress. Kids want to get through school to get to college or to get into a job. It depends on their definition of “progress” and what they choose to engage with to help them make progress.

So in some cases it’s not that they are buying it and using money, but they are spending their time on it. Spending time can be seen as part of the equivalent.

The other thing is there is a notion of consumption. The kids have to learn how to consume the education to demonstrate new behavior so they can get on to the next class or get on to the next college or get on to the next job.

We’ve actually done some work in that area. Looking at how kids, for example, consume education and what teachers can do. If you think of the student as the consumer…

Doug:                       Right.

Bob:                          …and it’s the teachers’ job and school’s job to help the students make progress and consume.

You’ll find that one thing that is most interesting, most people talk about education as having a motivation problem. We interviewed 9th and 10th graders. Everything from kids who had good grades to, I’ll say, medium grades, to bad grades, to kids who have dropped out. They were 11th graders and they dropped out.

What you found was that they had all hired education to make progress. At some point, the kids who dropped out, I interviewed a couple of kids from a gang.

What you found is that they felt they could make more progress in the gang than they could school. I don’t believe there’s a fundamental motivation problem. I think there is a blockage problem. I don’t think the kids can consume what were giving them.

Doug:                       So wait. We’ve got in 2010 I think there were 6.2 million, or something like, that dropouts in America. Go back to this blockage thing.

Bob:                          My belief is that…

Doug:                       Wait. What does “progress” mean though in that sense? You said that they could find more progress in the gang.

Bob:                          That’s right.,

Doug:                       These kids you talked about. What does that mean?

Bob:                          They talk about progress in their life. “I’m going to either be better off. I’m going to learn more. I’m to have more self-esteem. I am going to basically feel better about myself. I’m going to make progress because every time I go to school I get a D, they tell me I’m stupid. They basically make me feel like I don’t understand what’s going on. They won’t help me understand and all they do is tell me I just need to sit down and figure it out. They don’t help me understand how I am going to make progress.”

Eventually, it’s like, “I can’t make any more progress here. I might as well go to gang. I might as well get a job. I might as well go do something else.”

Doug:                       Yeah.

Bob:                          So the dropouts are really about the fact that they can’t consume anymore or school is not helping them make progress in their life.

Chris:                       So, is part of this conundrum that we are in, I don’t think we intend to use the show to bash on traditional education system. Is part of the flaw rooted in the fact that we approach the problem or the education system through the lens that Doug described? It’s just, “Kids don’t have a choice. They should plant themselves in the seat and learn.”

We don’t view it with regards to how kids can choose to consume or choose not to consume. We view it through sort of this “push” mentality.

Bob:                          Right.

Chris:                       We need to continue to push whether it’s an old way of learning or a new way of learning, we need to continue to push content onto these kids until something sticks. There’s very little attention paid to how kids choice and how kids…

Doug:                       Well, Chris, I think, just so I can just add to that. I think teachers work in a system that enforces a system on teachers that they then must enforce on students.

Bob:                          That’s correct.

Chris:                       Absolutely.

Doug:                       It’s not that students and teachers are not capable. Or that teachers are not imaginative or that teachers aren’t even good at what they do, it’s that they are extremely good at what they are doing but they are copying a system of thinking that is more about the bureaucracy and more about the administration of education than it is about actual teaching and learning.

Bob:                          That’s right. I think that it has outgrown where it came from, if you think about it. Formal education, you could say, universities and that have been around for quite a long time. Actual public school hasn’t been around for more than 150 years. Right?

Doug:                       Right.

Bob:                          It was mostly put together for the Industrial Revolution to train people to be able to work in the factories and to teach them skills that they needed to be able to do that.

If you go prior to that, it was really that not everybody was supposed to go to school to begin with. It’s kind of this building block that has built up and it’s almost like an inverted pyramid that’s ready to just turn over. Again, we think that every kid should go to college.

Not every kid… You know, some kids can actually get through college in their 18 years, but we don’t let them. Part of it is that we need a differentiated system that allows people to consume and make progress at their own rate.

The system is not designed for the kid. It’s designed for the academics who have basically said here’s the pedagogy of what people should know and learn as opposed to helping the kids figure out where they want to go and what they want to do.

If anything, we’re not helping kids envision what their future can be and then guiding them with the right types of education to get to them there.

We’ve got a mass customized consumption of auditory learners, visual learners, and kinesthetic learners, and all gardeners’ kinds of stuff. Literally we’ve got to be able to help students consume. But at the same time, what we’re doing is we’re saying, “In the textbook. I’ve got to put everything in the textbook.”

When there’s something that’s an auditory learner, and the visual learner has to sit and wait while the auditory learners hear it.

It just screams for a kind of online or some kind of a computer-assisted learning, but the fact is the union rules and the administrative pieces, they can’t break out of the old mold.

Doug:                       Well, should we be excited that Apple has come forward with this new textbook publishing software and stuff like that?

Bob:                          Absolutely.

Doug:                       Yes, or is that really the first fundamental change needs to be happening?

Because it seems to me that the publishing game is just as much a behemoth as the education game. What other things could we be doing to break open or crack open this block that you’re talking about for students?

Bob:                          Think about it for a second. Since you have graduated from college, how do you learn? Where do you get your content to learn and what do you consume to make progress?

Doug:                       That’s a great question. I actually made a career. I interview people or I read their books or I visit their websites. Basically, I create relationships with people I want to learn from.

Bob:                          That’s right. What you find is what people don’t understand. Something like a podcast has already disrupted a lot of education. It’s the one-off consumption education where, I want to learn about something, I can go listen to a podcast.

At the same time, the reality is, we get no credit for it. There’s no accreditation. So part of it is that there is still this world that values a degree in education and that kind of thing. So there are notions of how to make progress and certifications, if you will, of whether you actually can do things or not.

I feel that the education system is really pushing itself by raising its prices to where they’re at. The jobs that are out there can’t warrant the education that they have piled into themselves. You see a bubble happening that’s going to happen just like the housing crisis where these kids can’t go get jobs based on the education that they’ve got.

Chris:                       Let’s get tactical for a second. I think this could be interesting.

Bob:                          Right.

Chris:                       There’s a huge proliferation of startups in the education space. We’ve talked to a lot of people that have unbelievably cool technologies around dynamic learning and dynamic content, all of the work that Michael Horn is doing with people at the Innosight Institute which people should go check out.

If you are in that space and you are heading up a start up and bringing new technology into education, how should you be applying the Jobs-to-be-Done framework to ensure that you are going down the right path?

We have grappled with things in the past, like, the students have jobs and I think I am acutely aware of it, but the teachers have jobs and the administrators have jobs. At the state level, those people have jobs too. And, who actually buys this content? The parents have jobs.

Bob:                          Right.

Chris:                       Do you go direct to the consumer on the parents’ side? Do you deal with the bureaucracy in the school system? If I’m leading one of these startups, where I start?

Bob:                          I think you’ve got to start with, I’ll say some of Clayton Christensen’s Disruptive Innovation principles. I think that you could try to hit the mainstream head on and just not get anywhere.

To me, it’s just really to find those struggling moments and who’s struggling and then figure out from the struggling moments, how are they going to be willing to reach for something new?

The problem you have is that the system is so subsidized.

Chris:                       Yeah.

Bob:                          …and so convoluted in its spending habits, that the actual dollars spent are disconnected from the challenges at the front line. For a startup, it’s easier to go to the parent market, where they are frustrated, willing to shovel out their own dollars for it. I’ll say the administrative side is very, very difficult to connect the challenge in the actual  classroom with where I am spending the money.

Chris:                       Sure.

Bob:                          Some of the real good places to me is to go to the remediation market, which is, if I fail biology, when we went to school you would just take a different science class.

Chris:                       Yeah.

Bob:                          If you fail biology now, you’ve got to take it because it’s a graduation requirement.

Usually what happens is that kid that has to repeat biology is like, “I don’t want take it from the same teacher…

Doug:                       I didn’t learn it the first time.

Bob:                          …and I didn’t learn it the first time you gave it to me. So by providing a different way in which to learn biology and providing it in a way that the kids could be adaptive learning and that kind of stuff, that’s where I’ve seen most of the success.

You don’t have resistance from the teachers or the administrators because they don’t want to have to do the rework, if you will. They would prefer to have someone else do it. When the kid learns that way, all of a sudden they realize, “Can I take the next class this way?”

Chris:                       Yeah.

Bob:                          So you find it’s really about finding the cracks. To me, it all starts not with not the notion. If you look at most of the innovation that has happened in the education market over the last 15 to 20 years, it’s all been focused on helping the teacher teach, or a majority of it.

Doug:                       Sure.

Bob:                          As much as they put computers in the classroom… Some of it has been focused on special ed. For the mainstream, the kids haven’t change the way they consume. There hasn’t been a lot of innovation around how kids have consumed.

What you find is the whole idea of the smartphone, and the tablet, and what Apple’s doing, I don’t think the education system is actually prepared for how much it’s going to accelerate the learning, how much more kids can learn, and how much faster they can learn and whether the teachers are really prepared to be “the guide on the side as opposed to the sage on the stage.”

Doug:                       It seems to me that the quickest transition will come, and the most rapid amplification of learning and learning styles will come, when people realize that a lot of this interactive and online learning and a lot of this sort of manipulative learning using objects and learning objects on iPads and tablets and whatnot, are not only fundamentally resourceful ways for kids to learn quickly, but they also immediately transition into the real world. There is that component of online learning that allows you to communicate, not with people just in your “cohort,” or even people just in your class, but people all the way around the world.

What I think, and this is just me putting on the visionary for second, is that the thing that kids are always wanting to consumer when they are educating themselves are being taught, is they want to create their own kind of community and they want to create their own culture.

What I think is going to happen is that when we realize that fundamentally the web is a instant way to learn because of the way it allows us to communicate with people, our problems that are going to need to be solved are at once going to be global and our solutions are going to be global and the people who participate in those are actually going to be these hyper, local cohorts if you will, who have solutions on the ground in their area and are going to have to need to share those with people all the way around the world.

I think that we’re talking at once about this traditional education system, but I think when, Bob, you talk about how rapidly it’s going to amplify our accelerate learning. I think it’s also rapidly going to deteriorate the old district, regional, or state model, and it’s going to be a global education system.

Bob:                          Right.

Chris:                       I think the thing is I believe that education is a very personal thing. You make progress and you consume what you want to consume

Bob:                          Yeah.

Chris:                       …when you want to consume it. The thing is as much as we are learning that as adults, the fact is, I’ve seen kids who are failing math work their cell phone or their computer like there’s no tomorrow.

Doug:                       Yeah.

Chris:                       Part of it is two fundamentals, anything about jobs is about relevancy and engagement.

Doug:                       Yeah.

Chris:                       If I’m trying to make progress in something, the question is it’s got to be relevant to my situation and it’s got to engage me to make progress. The whole thing is if you really look at the people who have been studying education for a long time, it is about relevancy and engagement for the kid.

The more you can make it relevant and engaging for the kid, the more they will learn it and the more they will actually change their behavior or add to their knowledge bank.

The whole thing is, at least the way that I look at it, every kid has got to consume on their own and now, instead of having the resource of the teacher and school and maybe library, they now have the Internet and now they have the world at their fingertips to be able to learn.

It’s not trying to look at it from the big picture. It’s trying to look at it through the students’ eyes to say, “How can I actually learn how to design a pump to bring water to a place in Africa that doesn’t have a well?”

Bob:                          Yeah, but that’s my whole point. I think that’s what the web teaches us. It’s not only global, it’s both local and global at the same time.

I don’t think that you can actually talk about the localized way that a student or a community can learn or a school in a community can learn, without also talking about the fundamentally huge reach that learning can have on the web.

Chris:                       So, so…

Bob:                          Go ahead.

Chris:                       The point is that the world can build relevancy and engagement to do the social job and the emotional job of, “I can make a difference in the world by bringing water to people who don’t have water now.” Where, I could never do that before.

Part of it is, that by learning some of the new things, it’s adding that engagement. When we talk about Jobs-to-be-Done, it’s the social, emotional, functional job.

Well as much as I may learn about how to make a pump, the reality is that there are social and emotional things that can make it more engaging and make it more relevant that isn’t around the functional side of just knowing the equations of how to make a pump.

Doug:                       I think that’s true.

Bob:                          If you had a new technology that you were trying to bring and education, we always talk about the struggling moments. How do you uncover that struggling moment? Do you want to go into households and talk to students and talk about the last time you struggle to learn something? How would you start that? Tell me about the timeline that you would want to draw.

Chris:                       To me, it’s about trying to understand where are those struggling moments and how does your product or service fit? What would they stop doing or what would they give up in order to get?

Bob:                          Yep.

Chris:                       Again, if we go back to the forces model it’s like, think of Sylvan Institute in any tutoring type.

Bob:                          Yeah.

Chris:                       The struggles that you go through as a parent to help your kid get a tutor.

At what point do you actually admit you got a problem? When do you actually say, “We need a tutor”? How do you find a tutor? How do you test out the tutor? Which one do you figure out? Where’s the chemistry?

Again, it’s support but it’s really not helping them get real engagement and relevancy. It’s more about building focus to them.

To me, there’s other things to be doing to help reframe when the kid is struggling. Again, it might be a web-based solution. It might be a nonperson solution.

But right now I think where people struggle right now is the support system is, “I’m going to get a book. I’m going to go get a workbook or I’m going to go get a tutor.”

Bob:                          Yeah.

Chris:                       I think that the reality is it’s much broader than that. Part of it is to really look where students are struggling and they want to make progress but they can’t. That to me is the real essence of it.

Once I find those moments. So what we did is we actually looked at students in 9th and 10th grade and talk to them directly about the last homework assignment that they struggled with and walked through what was going on and why they struggled with it.

Most of the thing is that they didn’t get clear direction on it and they couldn’t find relevancy to it.

Doug:                       They couldn’t connect it to real life or a problem that they were aware of?

Chris:                       They couldn’t connect it to themselves. The whole thing is that they felt they felt they were going through the motions. So part of it is, how do you take Othello and relate it to real world today’s stuff that they deal with. It’s right there.

Bob:                          It’s still about progress. If I don’t have the light bulb and I can’t connect this to how I am actually moving myself forward, I think we can all put ourselves in their shoes. That’s like the classic, “Why do I need algebra? I’m never going to use this in real life.” It’s tough to push yourself along in those situations.

Chris:                       It’s being able to balance the theory with the practical application. Again, some people want to learn the big picture and go down to the micro-details and some people want to know the details and then abstract up to. Again, it gets back to how our brains are wired.

We’re doing a lot of work in the physiology of how the brain works and remapping the brain and new neuro-pathways. There’s just a lot of work out there that says no two brains are exactly alike. We’re doing kind of mass production education to a very mass customized market.

Bob:                          Even as simple as the DISC model is that explains to us how a more dominant person would want to consume education when compared to a more conscientious style person.

Chris:                       Conscientious style person. You got it.

Bob:                          I mean you could see how somebody in a conscientious behavior style would really struggle if it’s like they jumped to the end and they didn’t provide you any details and vice versa. That is very interesting.

Chris:                       I think that if you are an entrepreneur in the education space, it’s really about finding those struggling moments. Whether it’s helping teachers just be able to help students. You’re helping who’s struggling and who’s willing to pay? Pay is really about values.

It’s really, “Who really will value that being fixed or done or the reduction of struggling, and what progress can they really make?” In a lot of cases you find a lot of education products are just repackaged things that don’t really…

Bob:                          Don’t address the struggling moment.

Chris:                       Don’t address the struggling moment and there’s no reason to switch. So when there is no struggling moment everybody is looking at it going, “Man, that’s a great thing but there’s no reason for me to switch.”

Bob:                          Yeah.

Chris:                       The struggling moment is the reason to switch.

Bob:                          Right.

Chris:                       That’s where we are. Think about when a kid switches schools. Think about when a kid drops a class. Think about when a kid drops out of school. I mean, all of those are opportunities to get to the next level.

Doug:                       I wonder how this conversation would go if we actually had a practicing teacher and a practicing student in here. Maybe that’s something we can do sometime.

Chris:                       Yeah.

Bob:                          Yeah, that’s a great idea.

Doug:                       I think that this old saw that you hear would also work here in teaching and education. Education is a little bit different. The one thing I kept thinking about is, okay, student has a struggle to learn a certain algebra principle but there’s also another struggle of whether or not they grade actually fits that persons profile.

Chris:                       Right.

Doug:                       The struggle is, “Okay, I’m getting a D.” But the struggle is also, “I’m not learning.” And the struggle is also, “I’m not fitting into the family’s expectations for doing well in school.” I mean, there are like compounded struggles there. Again, I bring it back to that sense of choices.

It’s not really the same thing as going up to a counter and ordering a milkshake, if you think about it. It’s something a little bit different to me. Am I off by saying that?

Chris:                       For me I don’t see it as different. It’s just like when I go to buy a cell phone or a kid goes to buy a cell phone. They have to make the decision of which one and how it works and which one is going to be best for them, without ever actually using the cell phone.

To mean the whole thing is that they are responsible for their lives and their choices. If they’ve chosen not to be engaged that’s one thing. I would say when you dig deep into kids, they are more paralyzed from social pressures than they are from knowing that they need to make progress.

They all know that they need to make progress. They just don’t know how. They don’t know how to walk up to the counter and order, is my aspect.

Doug:                       Great.

Bob:                          Putting it back to the milkshake.

Chris:                       Putting it back to the milkshake. The thing to me that really hit home is I went and did a talk to, I would say, university level administrators.

There was somebody there who was talking about the University of Phoenix, the for-profit companies. How they were charging so much. They weren’t good value. We should be figuring out how to go after them, how to shut them down and everything else like that.

They literally were stealing students right and left from the public school, the public universities.

Doug:                       Right.

Chris:                       I sat through it for the first day or so. My talk was near the end. My thing is, I look at it and say, “I would love to compete with you guys. The reality is that when you start to look at that market, people want to be able to better themselves and take education but you won’t offer classes at night. You actually make me have all these prerequisites to try to get into class and charge me all this money that even though it’s not there, you make it so inconvenient for me to actually try to better myself and get another degree, the reality is I’d rather pay double and have my employer help me pay it than try to fit you.”

They’d say, “Yeah, we don’t like to teach at night. We don’t like those big classes.” It’s all these excuses that they were making. To me the private education business kind of highlighted is, how many people will want to actually go back to school and do better but the education system is not allowing them to do it in a way that is convenient and easy for them to do?

Doug:                       Right. This is a fascinating conversation. It’s all the time that we have left to do it today.

Let me just ask two things, one for Chris and one for Bob. We touched on it a little bit, but if you could model a different kind of public education system, what is one very small tweak that you would make in a classroom?

Bob:                          I would really work out of what, I would say, is meta-cognition. Helping kids understand how they learn and understand what they need to do. I think every kid is different. There is a lot of these different kinds of tests to help them realize whether they are an auditory learner.

Half of the time when we do interviews or we talked to kids, they don’t even know that by writing things down, they think it’s the notes that are important, but if they are kinesthetic learner, it’s just the fact they wrote it.

They could remember writing it. Not that they can see it. Where as a visual learner has to see the notes.

To me, helping kids understand how they learn, is I think one of the fundamental most important things that we should be working at.

Chris:                       Yeah, I think that’s a good one. I think one of the other big ones is something that Clayton talks a lot about in Disrupting Class. That is the batch process that kids go through and how everyone is lumped together and then you either move forward or you don’t move forward. It takes away from the natural flow of learning.

The interesting part about it is, I think there has been so much work done when you look at dynamic difficulty in the video games space. How those game developers are able to keep kids engaged at such an unbelievable level by understanding how to vary the difficulty as the kid plays. So it’s always on that edge. You can’t quite beat it, but it’s not so easy that you’re just disengaged.

I think to be able to capture some of those things and say you are not all lumped into the same pace of learning. You actually have the ability to learn at a pace that is really engaging for you. I think that could unlock a lot of potential in kids that is just locked up right now.

Bob:                          I think that’s a really good one.

Doug:                       Great guys. Well, thank you very much for joining us again. We’ll be doing another one next week. You can always find these podcasts on\blog. You can also tweet us. Bob Moesta is @bmoesta. Chris Spiek is @chriscbs. I am @douglascrets. Thanks for joining us.