Blockbuster was doing everything right. They had a fantastic business. It was booming and growing each year. They would tweak something here or there. Improve customer service. Move to DVDs or Blu-ray. But the model stayed the same. Because in all honesty: the model was working.

Here was the model, in the simplest terms:

  1. People want cheap entertainment
  2. People want convenient entertainment
  3. People want quick entertainment

Blockbuster’s job was to give the people what they want (at scale).

Netflix came along and challenged Blockbuster by telling customers they didn’t have to go to the store anymore. Netflix would send the DVDs right to your house, for a monthly flat fee. A lot of people liked this. They could go online, pick out the movies and tv shows to add to their queue and have a steady flow of DVDs coming in throughout the month.

Blockbuster said, “we can do that too…”, but you all know this is not how the story ends.

By the time Blockbuster had caught onto Netflix’s model, they had already changed how it works!

Netflix moved their entire business model to meet the growing needs of people who wanted to stream movies and tv shows to their devices.

Here was the Netflix model, in the simplest terms:

  1. People want cheap entertainment
  2. People want convenient entertainment
  3. People want quick entertainment

Netflix’s job was to give the people what they want (at scale).

See the difference?

  1. Cheap entertainment in 2013 was #8/mth, not $3 for every movie you rent.
  2. Convenient entertainment in 2013 was a large collection of titles at your house or anywhere you had an internet-connected device, not going down to the local store and hoping your movie was in stock.
  3. Quick entertainment in 2013 was as fast as your internet connection, not renting movies, watching them on only devices that had a DVD player, and returning them on time.

The difference is simple: Netflix saw how the world was changing around them, and adjusted accordingly. They weren’t doing something “better”, instead they were doing something “different” because it matched what was actually happening in the world.

Schools should be like Netflix

A Model That Works, Sometimes Needs to Be Changed

I get a bit frustrated by hearing people say (over and over again) that education needs to be completely overhauled. That we need to change the entire system. That nothing works.

I often talk with teachers who are giving their best every single day. In the midst of the daily practice of teaching and leading we see that the world is changing, our students are changing right along with it, and we have a responsibility to move our practice forward as well.

This doesn’t mean we abandon what has worked well in the past! It only means we need to think critically about how it can be adjusted to work well today.

If Socrates wanted to create an engaging learning experience for his pupils/students, he would probably focus on an experience that was human, social, meaning-centered, and language-based (thanks for these four PLN!). And guess what, it would most likely be engaging if it had those basic principles of learning at its core.

Those principles of learning still work today.

But, how it works looks different now then it did 10, 20, or 100 years ago.

When I talk with schools I often give this message: How can we think and act like Netflix, if we have been Blockbuster for so long?

To me, this is the big question. I’m not saying schools are like businesses (because they are not). I’m also definitely not saying students are like consumers (because they are not).

Instead, let’s take this lesson and apply it to our schools with a focus on change. Here are some questions I’m asking right now, and they are questions that continually need to be asked over time:

How can we shape our learning activities and assessments to match what the world actually looks like right now (not the future)?

How can we create a curriculum cycle that is flexible and adaptive enough to allow for doing things differently each year if need be?

How can we focus on student-centered learning opportunities all of the time instead of some of the time?

Netflix isn’t a perfect model to look at, but we can take one thing away from their story: They have changed their working model with the world, instead of fighting back at it.

Let’s try and do the same thing in education. Teach different, because our world is different.

How are you tackling this huge shift in your work? Would love to hear in the comments.

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