So to begin with, let’s put the school board off to the side and pick up our smartphone. What makes them smart isn’t the technology so much as the things that people do with them. To be more precise, it’s the apps that people build on top of the technology which enables them to show a map of nearby restaurants, update our status on Facebook, or play a game with our friends. In slightly technical terms, your smartphone is a platform for building mobile apps.
The concept of platforms isn’t limited to mobile devices. Amazon provides a platform for retailers to open shops and sell their products. YouTube delivers a wide variety of services on their platform aimed at helping people create their own video channels. Once you start thinking in terms of platforms which enable producers to create something of value for consumers, you’ll notice that platforms abound both online and off. AirBnB is one example of a platform which enables homeowners to rent their property like a hotel, and who could forget Craig’s List and their platform for personal ads?
Given the number of platforms which connect our modern world, it’s a wonder why more of our civic leaders don’t employ platform thinking to solve our community challenges. So instead of offering a list of demands for what I think the Board of Education should do to improve Springboro schools, I would like to present the three elements for building a successful public education platform.
NO. 1 CONNECTION: The bond between the producer and the consumer. The most essential connection in education is between the student and the teacher. In order to build these connections, teachers must have access to the tools necessary to do their jobs effectively. As in the case of YouTube, the value isn’t solely in the videos so much as the tools made available for the producers to create high quality content that the community is seeking.
NO. 2 GRAVITY: The social appeal of the content. The real value of education is in learning. Educational resources which have a positive impact on learning act as a social magnet that draws the two sides together. Much like eBay provides a platform that appeals equally to buyers and sellers, these magnets shouldn’t focus solely on students or teachers, but on creating equal value for both sides of the equation.
NO. 3 FLOW: The open exchange of information. While much of our educational system is measured in standardized scores, there is plenty more data to be made available than test scores. Information about student needs and can help identify opportunities for improvement. One needs only to consider the matchmaking capabilities of Netflix to see how similar recommendations might help students and teachers identify better learning opportunities.
This of course is but a starting point to think about public education from the platform perspective, by considering first the three key elements for a successful platform strategy: connection, gravity, and flow. To look at each one individually provides us with the clarity to see through partisan divide, along with the framework to build a 21st century educational system for our children.
For more information about the three elements of a successful platform strategy, be sure to check out the article by Mark Bonchek and Sangeet Paul Choudary in the Harvard Business Review.