Three Reasons Why You Should Stop Writing Technology Plans

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In an era of compressed adoption cycles, perhaps schools should do away with technology plans altogether.

Educational Technology Plans

I know I cannot be the first person to have this idea. In some circles, I am sure that my statement would be considered technology heresy. Moreover, the E-rate program, NCLB, and many grants all require the publishing of a technology plan. The best plans have hours of input from the local community, businesses, educators, and suppliers. Unfortunately, this may all be a waste of time in light of the changing dynamics in our economy. Perhaps, we need something different than an explicit plan for educational technology.

In this month’s Consumer Electronics’ “Vision” magazine, there is a great article about the “Shifting Adoption Cycles” by Shawn G. Dubravac (@twoopinions). Dubravac highlights the abundance of research that shows how innovation is adopted across a population. In the past, new innovations were able to be increase in adoption and offset the decline in legacy products. Dubravac cites the rise of color television sets and decline of black-and-white- televisions. As the new technology emerged, color TV was able to be adopted at a rate that balanced the decline in the preceding generation. This pattern has repeated consistently for centuries.

However, Dubravac observes that with the rise of digital mass communications, information is being diffuse far more rapidly than in previous generations. As a consequence of consumers being able to rapidly consume new information, the decline in legacy products is happening long before it reaches the end of its typical adoption curve. In other words, before you can get the full value from your latest electronic gadget, it is already obsolete.

I have two problems with educational technology plans:

  • First, they are made for a time, when we had time to plan. Today, change is rapid and varied. Effective business plans in the 21st Century need not be more than a page or few. Think of reality television series, Shark Tank. Have you ever seen anyone present a written multi-page business plan to get funding?
  • Second, modern business is not based on long-range planning anymore. It is fundamentally based on rapid prototyping and maximizing cycles. Prototyping allows business to get feedback and evaluate ideas before committing huge sums of capital–just to find out that something does not work or has a design flaw.

These two ideas stand in opposition to five-year technology plans. Moreso, Dubravac’s point adds further validity to why we should get out of the long-range strategic mumbo-jumbo planning business and focus on principles that drive our learning values and student success mission.

It is important for educators to understand that manufacturers know that information is causing innovation diffusion to happen faster. In fact, they are planning for it and counting on it.  Take cellphones and smartphones for an example. Often times, your mobile contract last longer than the device itself.  By the time your contract ends, there are plenty of better alternatives available to get you to purchase a new device and extend your contract. So, in a world of planned obsolescence, we need to get a new way of thinking about educational technology planning for optimal learning benefit.

The Commander’s Intent

Made to StickThe Commander’s Intent (CI) is a beautiful idea that I discovered in Chip Heath & Dan Heath’s, “Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die.” At West Point, Army commanders do not get hamstrung by move-by-move instructions. They use the CI construct to ensure that the mission goals are provided and leave room for improvisation in achieving them. By doing so, as battlefield conditions change, soldiers can adapt without direct input from their leaders.

The operative phrase here is as “conditions changes.” In a time where technology adoption cycles can end suddenly, school leaders should focuses on major trends that shift the entire industry versus consumer fads that will be short lived. This is where the CI construct would be a useful planning device to ensure that technology plans survive a collision with reality.

In many ways, CI allows for strategic planning to be concise and simple to follow–much like modern business plans.

The Cloud Decision

As we look at major trends that shift the entire industry, none are more important than the evolution of cloud computing. Imagine a world of “Everything As A Service.” That is the world borne of cloud computing. In many ways, different cloud-based, business models will end traditional technology adoption cycles faster. In Dubravac’s article he alludes to online movies and video causing the Blu-Ray technology adoption to end faster than it could replace DVDs.

The cloud changes investment models. Moving to the cloud frees up capital and allows for rapid prototyping. An idea can be tested, evaluated, and feedback broadly shared before a commitment to scaling innovation is made. In the constrained budgets of education, you only want to scale the innovations that have the highest probable chance of succeeding. The cloud’s inherent rapid prototyping design allows for this happen frequently.

In schools, we are always working in compressed time. Students are only in our classrooms for a finite number of days each year. Every minute of the school day is filled with a learning objective and activity that must be met to achieve growth and to meet standards. In this environment, planning for the next day or week is just as demanding as planning for the next five years. To keep pace, improving organizational speed should be top order of the day.

Cameron’s CI

Teachers and students must be highly productive; and learning must be authentic, so that students can meet the challenges of college, career, and citizenship.

Use whatever innovations enable that to happen faster and more economically daily.

See…that did not require a three-month planning cycle, hours of meetings, and publishing.

Talking in Class

Read Made to Stick and write your CI in the comments below. I would love to hear your thoughts on the need for highly detailed plans in an era of compressed innovation adoption cycles.

  • Matthew Henry

    Cameron, when I felt the need several years ago to put together an IT strategic plan, it felt so funny to try and put down on paper what you wanted to do technology wise for the next 5 years. What came out of that was what I call a red/yellow/green plan. We took a look at each technology area and set an objective for that area. That’s been followed up with what is currently making that part of the “plan” red, yellow or green with our goal to move towards green. This way, each technology can be “planned” individually. This all makes it fit now for me, this “Shifting Adoption Cycles”, that’s what this is. Of course the deep IT in me says, what a second, this is a term from a consumer electronics magazine, that can’t apply to traditional IT.

    • http://higherinnovation.com/ Cameron Evans, @EDUCTO

      Thank you for reading and contributing to this conversation Matthew. Using a plan based on critical indicators for teaching and learning is the gist of the CI. As far as the “Shifting Adoption Cycles” the research is not based on consumer electronics; it’s based on Seed Corn. But the phenomenon happens across all industries. Because schools are leaning into consumer technologies to support learning experiences, these fast-ending adoption cycles are crucial…schools and families don’t have money to spend twice or to purchase consumer tech with short lifecycles. I would argue that there’s nothing traditional about IT anymore…I would love to see your plan…if it is online…share the link.

      • Matthew

        We’re still in draft mode on this. It’s a complete change from anything we’ve done before :)

  • Sherry Hahn

    What a brilliant statement – I have struggled with this for years. I think the above article will be my new tech plan. Thanks for the thought provoking blog. Sherry

    • EDUCTO

      Thanks Sherry. With the speed and breadth of change, we have to step back a bit to see the whole landscape. Who has money or time to spend twice?