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Education Opinion

The Factory Model versus the Creative Agency Classroom

By Justin Reich — May 22, 2012 1 min read
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I have a commentary published in this week’s Education Week paper titled Use Technology to Upend Traditional Classrooms.

In it, I propose three ways of thinking about how emerging technologies can transform the traditional factory model of education. In the factory model, we envision the process of education as the delivery of standardized learning objects into containers (brains) brought by students. One thing we could do with technology is to try to make the factory run more cheaply. For instance, we could have students take self-paced online courses and replace teachers with security guards. Another thing we could do with technology would be to make the factory run faster. If we give each kid their own assembly line, through the personalization of curriculum, then we can deliver standardized learning objects at a paced optimized for each student.

Another option is to use technology to try to do something other than run factories. In the commentary, I describe the story of sitting in a classroom of science students working on an online science fair project and thinking to myself, “This doesn’t look like a classroom, it looks like a creative agency on deadline.” Instead of just having kids stuff learning objects in their heads, what if we had them build meaningful intellectual and vocational products, supported by just-in-time instruction, and then publish and share those products with the Internet-connected world.

Many educators have proposed metaphors for what this environment might look like, and I propose the idea of the Creative Agency: an architecture firm, software development shop, magazine agency, and so forth. The metaphor has a few nice features: it describes innovative classrooms; it riffs off of the factory metaphor, the dominant metaphor of education; it provides a logical set of roles for students, teachers, and administrators as knowledge workers, project managers, and agency executives. Most importantly, I think nearly all parents and educators want our children to work in creative agencies rather than on assembly lines.

This is an idea that I’ve been brewing over for a long time, and I hope to find more time to develop in the years ahead. If you have any feedback on the commentary, please share.

For regular updates, follow me on Twitter at @bjfr and for my papers, presentations and so forth, visit EdTechResearcher.

The opinions expressed in EdTech Researcher are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.