Figuring out what students want: Jobs’ approach was no market research

December 23, 2011 at 9:49 am 2 comments

Here’s an interesting view to contrast with the student-as-consumer view that sometimes drives master teachers out of their jobs (since master teachers make students work). Nobody will ever say that Steve Jobs ignored the consumer — Apple didn’t get to be the huge consumer electronics company today without trying to please the consumer. But he never asked them what they wanted. They did get a vote: To buy, or not buy. Are there lessons for us in education? Are course evaluations the education equivalent of market research?

In the Preface to Inventing the Medium, I write about the limitations of asking users what they want since people “often cannot think past the familiar conventions of existing devices and applications.” A similar theme emerged from the many admiring reminiscences that followed Steve Jobs’ death this month. From the New York Times obituary : When asked what market research went into the iPad, Mr. Jobs replied: “None. It’s not the consumers’ job to know what they want.”

via Steve Jobs on what users want | Janet H. Murray’s Blog on Inventing the Medium.

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2 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Alan Kay  |  December 23, 2011 at 10:13 am

    There are two important parts to this — especially as it relates to education. These have been discussed before but it is worth iterating here.

    1. We simply will never be educated enough to be able to make choices about what new things might be good for us. Neil Postman points out that this used to be one of the main jobs of universities (and of public schools) — and a large part of what you paid for — was to have a big notion about what education should be, and to provide important parts of this prescriptively to students.

    2. Having a large population like something new that has been put in front of them has very little correlation to whether the new thing is good or good for them.

    People seem to constantly conflate these and wind up at best confused. As far as “real education” goes, many of the actually “good for you” items will fail (2) — too much work, too unfamiliar, not related to current goals, etc.

    Cheers,

    Alan

    Reply
  • 2. Gilbert  |  December 24, 2011 at 6:18 pm

    Sorry if I react poorly here, but I really hate the way everyone interprets that line from Steve Jobs. Usually people take it as license to ignore the customer (or insert other beneficiary of your work/service).

    The course evaluations aren’t really the problem, it’s the way the administration or others use them irresponsibly. If a teacher intentionally chooses to work their students hard, and then gets evaluations saying “I hated this class cause it was too much work,” then that’s the context the evaluation should be interpreted in. If you have an administration who’s just looking at aggregate Likert scale data (which has numerous methodological deficiencies) across teachers at the entire university, then you’ve totally lost that context. Of course that leads to BS. It’s just a classic garbage in, garbage out scenario.

    Now if a teacher actually wants to do a good job serving their students’ education needs, then the teacher would be well served by having access to more data (in the form of evaluations) and by striving to better understand both their students’ immediate desires, unarticulated needs and the difference between the two. That seems like a much better basis for a good teaching practice, not some romanticized teaching genius myth.

    Reply

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