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Customization Now

Updated: Feb 6, 2018

Time is deceptive. We move incrementally forward, knowing full well that we are in the midst of change, but unable to comprehend the deeper meaning of it all.


Lately I have become increasingly aware of the extent to which customization is happening all around us. Here’s an example. One of the grocery stores that I shop at offers rewards points. The more products I buy, the more points I collect over time to use for additional purchases. This may not seem like anything new. But what’s different about this rewards system is that my points are based upon the system’s understanding of my purchasing preferences. The system keeps track of what I buy and then provides opportunities for me to gain additional points by purchasing products that it anticipates I will be interested in.



I am willing to admit that this particular example might seem rather mundane because, after all, we are becoming increasingly familiar and accustomed to these types of marketing systems. But our education systems may want to pay attention to the fact that the business world is seeking to firmly entrench this next phase of information management. More specifically, and depending on who you prefer to listen to, it may be described as moving from systems of record to systems of engagement. But the basic idea is the same - to interconnect all of the data sources and services now available to us through apps and big data to customize our user experience.


The significance for education is profound because these types of systematic structures, now being built for all sorts of services and applications, are increasingly expected and accepted as the norm for user experience. So what, exactly, is a system of engagement? It’s an information system that goes beyond traditional record keeping by responding to the specific need of the client. This youtube clip from author Geoffrey Moore gives a really good overview.

I also like this one of IBM’s Chief Technology Officer of WebSphere, Jerry Cuomo who uses the example of Gold Coast Cabs in Australia to demonstrate how, in his own words, “the WebSphere platform has arrived.”

To clarify this, Cuomo points out that gccabs doesn’t actually own taxi cabs. It owns mobile apps. It’s an example of a company that has developed a system of engagement by integrating real time data sources. The system detects opportunities to engage its customers, and then enriches those interactions with information that is specific to the context of the user. This means that, from an app on my phone, I can order a cab and link my destination with virtually any number of product or service purchases. And of course everything is paid for through seamless on-line financial transactions that are integrated as a part of the user experience.



We can see that the business world is seeking to meet the demand for customized service through changes driven by the new ways that we now are able to access and use information. Moving from systems of record to systems of engagement is a concept that is becoming increasingly embraced from an information technology perspective. And from an Edushift perspective, I love what these people are talking about. But they are using language from an information technology viewpoint that is bumping up against the concept of "system" that education needs to use. So let me clarify.

To me, systems of engagement are really information management systems within the larger educational system as a whole. They are systems within a system. But from Edushift Premise 2, we also recognize that technology in education is a support, not a solution on its own. So we have to get this straight because it would be all too easy for our educational systems to dismiss this as just another technological advancement or marketing tool. So, for the sake of clarity I am going to refer to “systems of engagement” as “informational structures of engagement”. From a purely technical perspective, we need to move from informational structures of record to informational structures of engagement.

Like business, the educational systems that will survive in this new world order will use “informational structures of engagement” to re-orient themselves from a top down operational system to a bottom-up client system. And a client-focused educational system will look exactly what it sounds like. It will be organized and oriented to meet the needs of the client. The function of the system is to connect the dots for me, the client. Where and when I need to go is assisted by the system based upon an understanding and timely response to my needs, preferences and activity, not the other way around.



Lately, I have participated with a MOOC platform out of one of the larger American Universities. More specifically, I enrolled in several courses to learn some more about big data applications that I hope will be useful to Edushift. But what I really found interesting is the manner in which this particular educational system is seeking to use informational structures of engagement, but hasn’t yet moved to a client-focused system structure overall. Let me explain.


To enrol, I was provided with a menu of courses to choose from. I could choose anything I wanted, attend when I wanted, complete assignments (or not) and receive a final mark (or not) if I chose. Furthermore, the information system knows and responds to the choices I made. So participation in one or two courses leads to regular updates as to the availability of other courses based upon my apparent preferences. This is terrific.


However, we can’t (yet) say that this educational system has become client-focused in the manner that Edushift is predicting as ultimately necessary. To start, the several MOOC'S I participated in required me to follow along with very traditional lecture formats. Yes, they were on-line and time flexible. But any real specification to my individual learning style and needs was not an option. The client is expected to follow the lectures that are provided in a sequential video timeline, with tests along the way. From a purely IT perspective, it could be suggested that an informational structure of engagement is being developed. But is it a client-focused educational system overall? Is the system organized to really meet my customized needs?


Remember, I still have to follow the lecture structure. There is no further depth to help me align what I am trying to achieve through a range of customized applications and services to engage me in the learning process. What am I trying to achieve? What other content do I need to access? What projects could I participate in? Who do I talk to? How can the system assess my understanding of the concepts and skills I am expected to acquire? How do I get accredited with this skill and knowledge? How do I add this to my portfolio? How does it help me to define who I am and what I excel at?


More to the point, would anyone pay for that type of customized service? You bet they would. Do we have the capacity to develop these types of informational structures of engagement? Of course we do. But can our public systems of education become client-focused? That is the deeper and more relevant question that Edushift is seeking to address and support. 

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