School change: push platforms versus pull platforms

by Steve Wyckoff on June 16, 2010

As I think about school change I’m always searching the current literature on the 21st century for theories of how the world works. I recently read the book, The Power of Pull by John Hagel, John Seely Brown, and Lang Davison. Fascinating stuff. They do a great job of describing the world that is emerging and comparing it to the world we are leaving.

The world we are leaving is a push platform. According to the authors,

“’Push’ describes a method and means of organizing activities and actions. Push operates on a key assumption, that it is possible to forecast or anticipate demand. Based on this assumption which works mightily to ensure that the right people and resources are delivered to the right place at the right time to serve the anticipated demand.”

“Push approaches are typified by what we might call “programs” or “routines,” tightly scripted the specifications of activities designed to be invoked by known parties in predetermined contexts.”

If that doesn’t describe education today, I don’t know what does! Here’s more from the book…  “summarizing the philosophy of push, we might tally the following instincts, assumptions, and beliefs:”

• There’s not enough go around
• Elites do the deciding
• Organizations must be hierarchical
• People must be molded
• Bigger is better
• Demand can be forecast
• Resources can be allocated centrally
• Demand can be met

So what is pull?  “Pull is the ability to draw out people and resources needed to address opportunities and challenges. Pull gives us unprecedented access to what we need, when we need it, even if we’re not quite sure what “it” is. Pull allows us to harness and unleash the forces of attraction, influence, and serendipity.”

Pull has three levels. The first level is access, which has been growing over the last three decades. The advancements in technology have given us, all of us including students, unprecedented access. The second level of pull is attract. We now have the ability to attract people of like interests and passions. We can connect with people all over the world based on the things we are most passionate about and interested in knowing and doing. The third level of pull is achieve. We aren’t there yet but the first two waves are already sweeping over us.

I’ve written many times about the accomplishments of Erie high school. Their project-based learning is an example of a pull platform. Their students use access differently, more efficiently, and more effectively than any other school in the state. They design their own projects, and create their own knowledge.

They are beginning to attract like-minded adults to the projects that they develop. It is only a matter of time until they start attracting students from around the world to their projects based on interest and passion. They currently identify, contact, and engage their own mentors based on a common passion that they possess with their mentors.

And even early on they are starting to achieve things in their school that are unheard of in high schools. The cloning of cattle, the conversion of vehicles to run on hydrogen, the making of precision musical instruments, are only a few examples. And you can be sure in the coming years there will be many many many more examples.

I hope that Erie high school is just the beginning of the transformation of schools from push platforms to pull platforms. That will be real school change. – Steve Wyckoff

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