DAILY INSIGHT: Whata-sizing education?

By Carl Hooker, CIO Advisor

Those of you not lucky enough to visit the state of Texas or parts of the south, will have missed a trip to one of our proudest fast-food destinations. Whataburger started in Texas in the 1950s and has gone through several transformations over the decades. What started as a basic A-framed orange and white-striped building that served a couple of different hamburgers has evolved as quickly as American ideas of customer service have changed. Their motto—“Just like you like it”—is more than just a motto, it’s their way of doing business.

Whataburger was one of the first fast-food restaurants to offer 24/7 dining service. They added a breakfast menu like many other fast-food chains. However, the fact that breakfast is served from 11pm to 11am make it unique. In 2009, it began a campaign to advertise the many variety of ways you could now order your Whataburger. According to Whataburger Inc, there are 36,864 different ways you can customize your selection.

Education could learn a lot from what this now 700+ food chain has done to be successful in a hostile market. Where the regular food chain was bound by time, much like we are between the hours of 8am-4pm everyday, it’s time we start operating like a 24/7 business. We continue to preach life-long learning, yet what we really are saying is, learning for 9 and 1/2 months, during the day, and then being judged by our own food critique (see High Stakes testing).

Some schools and universities have adapted to this 24/7 idea by offering asynchronous online learning. You can have your meal at any time, you just might not be able to sit in the restaurant while you are eating it.

Now let’s look at their extended breakfast policy. Some people don’t like to be told when they need to eat a particular meal, just like we don’t always learn best during the middle of the day. Education’s latest answer to this is the “flipped classroom” idea. If you don’t want to wait until the 9am class to digest your information, pull it up online at midnight and consume to your heart’s content.

The above trends are mirroring Whataburger’s ideas that the customer/student needs to have access to your product/learning whenever they want. It might not always be in the building or during 6th period, but students that want or crave to learn more, can have it.

Now let’s take a look at their latest promotional trend. 36,864 different ways to have your hamburger. Can you imagine education giving students that many choices? What level of personalizing and customizing would have to take place in order to make that happen while still giving the students a tasty product? While many educational institutions have started this evolution using technology to help (BYOT or 1:1 programs) there is still a long way to go to reach a level of “anyway you want it, however you want it” learning. The bad news is, some districts still fine success in churning out the In-n-Out burger way of doing things. We’ll make a tasty dish and give you 3 options on how you want it. While that success may work with the food inspectors (usually those with the name Pearson), they aren’t going to survive with customers. Even those schools with the In-n-Out approach have reluctantly started to realize that and now offer an “animal-style” choice that’s not quite so advertised in its schools via distance learning.

So how do we offer 36,864 different ways for a student to learn? It’s going to take a lot more than some splashy technology and clever teaching tricks. We’re truly going to have to invest in each and every customer that comes through our doors and realize they all have different tastes and styles of learning.

And if that fails, maybe we could at least paint our roofs orange and white.

Carl Hooker is director of instructional technology at Eanes ISD in Texas and blogs at Hooked on Innovation, where this is cross posted.