BlackBerry and the Lifecycle of Education Technologies

by Hap Aziz

In today’s issue of The New Yorker online, James Surowiecki has an article titled, “BlackBerry Season,” that is a very interesting take on the decline of the Research In Motion smartphone that dominated the marketplace–before the arrival of the iPhone and then Android phones in the consumer marketplace. Surowiecki writes:

“The easy explanation for what happened to R.I.M. is that, like so many other companies, it got run over by Apple. But the real problem is that the technology world changed, and R.I.M. didn’t. The BlackBerry was designed for businesses. Its true customers weren’t its users but the people who run corporate information-technology departments. The BlackBerry gave them what they wanted most: reliability and security. It was a closed system, running on its own network. The phone’s settings couldn’t easily be tinkered with by ordinary users. So businesses loved it, and R.I.M.’s assumption was that, once companies embraced the technology, consumers would, too.”

I have made similar statements regarding education technology in various entries in this blog (such as Prediction: Commercial Applications Will Drive Education Use… Yet Again), and based on Surowiecki’s article, the sentiment that consumers can drive what was widely considered to be enterprise software systems spans across industry verticals. Let’s parse the above passage from the context of education technology solutions, such as the learning management system, and note the situational similarities:

  • The BlackBerry was designed for business.
  • The learning management system was designed for education.
  • Its true customers weren’t its users but the people who run corporate information-technology departments.
  • Its true customers weren’t students but the faculty and administrators who run higher education institutions.
  • The BlackBerry gave them what they wanted most: reliability and security.
  • The learning management system gave them what they wanted most: control over the institution-student interaction.
  • It was a closed system running on its own network.
  • It was a closed system running on its own network.
  • The phone’s settings couldn’t easily be tinkered with by ordinary users.
  • The learning management system’s layout and configuration couldn’t easily be tinkered with by students.
  • So businesses loved it, and R.I.M.’s assumption was that, once companies embraced the technology, consumers would, too.
  • So education institutions loved it, and the learning management system’s developers assumption was that, once institutions embraced the technology, students would too.

Does anyone else see what I’m seeing? The point I’m making is that so many of the tools that pass for technological innovation within the higher education landscape (and not just learning management systems) are simply solutions developed for the wrong customer. Ultimately, the technology adopted and used effectively in higher education will be the innovations that students bring with them from their own personal lives and empower them to take control of their own education. Clickers, for example, have no place in the classroom when students can easily find clicker apps for their smartphones. Technology only has the power to transform if it is actually embraced–and not forced upon the user for reasons of convenience of management.

Surowiecki concludes his article in this way:

“Companies have quickly come to love consumerization, too: a recent study by the consulting firm Avanade found that executives like the way it keeps workers plugged in all day long. And since workers often end up paying for their own devices, it can also help businesses cut costs. One way or another, consumers are going to have more and more say over what technologies businesses adopt. It’s a brave new world. It’s just not the one that the BlackBerry was built for.”

Breaking this passage down, we understand that higher education institutions should come to love the consumerization of technology in the teaching and learning space, as educators will like the way it keeps students plugged in all day long. And if students end up paying for their own devices, we could see reductions in the cost of resources and materials that institutions need to purchase. It’s clear that students are going to have more say in what technologies higher education institutions adopt. The question is, what companies are built to take advantage of this dynamic?

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9 Comments

Filed under colleges and universities, cost of education, education, education technology, emerging technologies, future technology, Hap Aziz, higher education, Learning Management Systems, smartphones, technology

9 responses to “BlackBerry and the Lifecycle of Education Technologies

  1. Great post. But I have to say RIM isn’t dead yet and also their USP i.e. email & BBM are still best in the consumer industry. They are in transition to new platform QNX OS (BB10). Apple has changed the smartphone industry but after 5 years they just lost the innovation with iPhone 4S (will not disagree that it is the best selling handset in last quarter). On the other hand RIM is preparing for next decade. RIM’s gamble didn’t paid off with PlayBook but PlayBook 2 will be a serious challenger. And on education system I would love to see more technology involved but it can hinder students learning.

    BlackBerry London – http://harryminhas.wordpress.com/2011/08/08/blackberry-london/

  2. BlackBerry London will be released by end of september. US launch schedule for October 2012. Android has its plus points. But Windows Phone is also gaining momentum this year. Times can still change if manufacturers decide to jump ship.

    • The question is will Windows Phone gain enough momentum to claim a respectable market share? All of my developer contacts that have worked in Windows Phone development speak highly of the environment and capabilities. Do you think Microsoft’s implementation of Windows 8 on ARM processors will cause any shift in the marketplace?

  3. “It was a closed system running on its own network”- to that I add: provides an isolated learning environment. With HIPAA privacy issues aside – students pay for the experience of learning among trusted peers. The LMS accommodates this facet of learning.

    Oddly, the educators who emerge as most innovative and engaging disregard those parameters- in many cases allowing students to use whatever tools may suit the learning. Technology implementation takes more effort than planning course activities. Perhaps we’re putting too much emphasis on getting the tech.

    • Agreed: we don’t want to put the tech “cart” before the learning “horse.” Demonstrate how technology implementation will have positive impact on learning outcomes (quantified!) before “thowing iPads” at every student.

  4. James Keltgen

    Great article and response. I’ve seen this happen far too many times where the technology is not consumer-centric or consumer driven. As you pointed out Hap, the various LMS applications out there are a wonderful example of not being “student-driven” but rather “institutionalized.”

    A key take-away from everyone’s comments is that in order to maintain sustainability in the technology sector, the perspective for new products almost HAS to switch in order to survive. The theory applies everywhere from gadgets to software and often becomes buried in marketing and corporate rules. Glimmers of true innovation often do not come from companies, but rather individuals or small groups with the desire and passion to see things differently.

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