What Can Education learn from Steve Jobs?

What Can Education learn from Steve Jobs?

I’ve been reflecting lately on the passing of Steve Jobs and what we as educators can learn from him. He was a true American. An inventor, a business man, a tech titan, and most of all a teacher. I’ve been exposed to Apple products in the classroom since I was a student. We had the Apple IIe in elementary school. So what can education learn from Steve Jobs? A lot.

Our educational system is broken. We haven’t really changed the way we teach since the invention of the printing press. We are literally still basing the majority of our teaching in text and books. Meanwhile, the majority of our learning is happening in hyperlinked, media rich landscapes that allow us to be well educated consumers. The internet has made us really good shoppers, but now really good students (yet). I’m one of the believers that education CAN and WILL be saved. I also believe that human ingenuity coupled with smart inclusion of technology will be the agent of change to save education in America, and ultimately the American economy.

Jobs created a company that created a product that served a niche market at a time when technology was evolving. He built a surfboard that rode the opening wave of the technology revolution. He stood tall on that surfboard, and he rode it all the way to end of his life’s wave.

Apple is an innovative American company and education can learn directly from the successes of Apple. If we can succeed in education, we can save our economy.


Apple has always been ahead of the innovation race. Their philosophy is simple – let the past build on the present. ONE great product led into their NEXT great product. iPod one was ground breaking. The click wheel offered a fresh way to interact with a menu. That was the FIRST big invention. The genius of this technology was that people didn’t have to relearn what they learned with the first device. The iPod then set the groundwork for what became the iPhone and the iPhone became the iPad. Not only did Apple streamline the production process, but they also leveled out the learning curve from one product to the next.

Apple continues to demonstrate this intuition in its software. iTunes works and acts like iPhoto. iMovie (for better or for worse) now works and acts just like Final Cut Pro. Garageband works and acts like Logic. Users don’t have to relearn anything.

What can school’s learn about innovation?

Schools haven’t reinvented their approach in a long long time. We’re still primarily focused on reading and writing as our means to evaluate. The last major advancement in education came in the form of the printing press. Books gave students access to uniform texts that they could study from. The most modern addition to the current classroom is the word processor and the laser printer. It gave students the ability to write and re-write their work and print it out in a larger variety of font sizes, shapes, and now colors.

The read and write model needs to be innovated.
The content of our textbooks is curated by corporations who are profiting huge from our education system. We need to unify the textbook, and allow teachers to collaborate as authors.


One of the secrets to Apple’s success is that it is structure like a startup. This micro scale allows them to ignore market research and to innovate based on what the innovators feel is right. They don’t have the messy excesses that modern corporations have. They have small design teams that continued to be challenged through the years to “Think Different” and create new solutions to fresh problems. Education is currently stuck in a macro system of evaluation where politicians are setting standards for academic achievement based on bubbled in test scores. If we can shift our thinking to a local model, we’ll have a better time making change happen.


Kids simply aren’t reading today. The average 8-18 year old is consuming 10 hours and 45 minutes (10:45) worth of media content in 7½ hours of multitasking. They consume media in all kinds of ways – they’re just not reading to consume it. They are WRITING more than ever before, but the language their using is an invented language that only they understand. They have created an efficient shorthand that older teachers who learned shorthand in school seem to scoff at. The truth is, less letters to communicate the same thing takes less time.

For less than $500 today, students have access to devices that can do what I call All of the WWW’s. They can:

W – Watch stuff
W – surf the Web
W – Write Stuff
S – Shoot stuff

The previous academic focus on reading and writing was a consequence of the technology available. For a long time, books were the most effective way to mass distribute educational content, and so we resorted to teaching broad topics like READING, WRITING, MATH, SCIENCE, and LANGUAGES.

Today, we can shift to a media focused landscape. Kids should be curating and creating Internet video content. Schools should be teaching kids how to evaluate and how to make what they’re consuming.


Steve Jobs was a master collaborator. He hired people who were smarter than him to work inside the Apple HQ. He worked with vendors, and challenged them to continue to make better, smaller, faster products. And then he homogenized the workflow. The iPhone glass is the same glass as the iPad. The iPod, iPhone, iPad chargers – all the same.

He knew that he alone was not as smart as a group of smart people working together.


Steve Jobs was an autonomous thinker who had the right combination of visionary and collaborator. Certainly, Jobs was at times uncompromising with his creative vision, but he knew what he wanted, and he continued to push his vision forward until people agreed.

We need to start teaching visioning in schools. Projects are often predetermined for students by their teachers. They are unwilling to invest a lot of their minds into projects – because they’re more interested in “finishing the paper” than they are interested in expressing themselves.

Our system encourages moderation. Kids complete just enough of a project that will yield the grade that they’re seeking, and they don’t go beyond the expectations that teachers set. We need to begin to design projects that challenge students to craft a vision for an assignment and autonomously seek the solutions to their in class challenges.

We need to also acknowledge that each student’s path in unique. Trying to teach a 5th grader to read at a fifth grade level when they are only able to read at a 2nd grade level is a recipe for failure. Self guided learning will allow advanced students to conquer greater tasks quicker, and it will help struggling students get the help that they need. Students need to be empowered to pursue areas that generally interest them.

Not every student will go to college, and so we need to offer a comprehensive curriculum in our K-12 schools that will introduce essential 21st Century Skills to our kids.


We can learn a lot from Steve Jobs the entrepreneur. At 20, he started Apple in his parents garage. He saw the challenge – to create a workable personal computer, and he ventured out to create the solution.

An easy way to encourage entrepreneurship in classrooms is to let kids pick the content of their projects. They’re projects should be shared and used to teach OTHER kids about these niche fields of interest.

Students are the curators of their new world. They will be the next generation’s teachers.


Jobs continued his work as a master collaborator with the app store. He offered content creators 70% of the revenues from all of the sales of books, apps, movies, music, and apps.

Content creators scoured the free market to find a niche that they could fill, and they made content that could all be sold in one place.

What can schools learn from this? Well, they can take on the app store business model, and use it as an incentive to pay teachers more.

What if we got the top communicators in EVERY discipline to offer their lectures for free on the internet. Sponsors and advertisers will fund the projects. Teachers will get 70% of the revenues, the schools will get 30%, and students will get a FREE education.


Steve Jobs was a master communicator. When Apple launched a new product they did it in a BIG way. Their new product would be in the top of the news cycle for days after.

Jobs had a passion for his products, an understanding for what they could do, and he had the charisma that made people want to listen to him. They used the medium that they were innovating to help share the message. A few years ago, Apple started to webcast all of their major product launches. People were so passionate about the products, that they wanted to bear witness to every piece of the new products.


Apple has always plans ahead. Right now, if you purchase a Apple computer, it no longer has a firewire port. It now has a Thunderbolt port – which is 10x faster than USB. Apple has never market to what’s trending today – they’ve always worked hard to create products that will be of value tomorrow.

They’ve always thought about what was coming NEXT – instead of what works right now.

We are currently at the great technology plateau…High Definition video is at our fingertips. We can make and consume HD for very little cost. Internet is ubiquitous with urban living. 3G is everywhere, WiFi at every Starbucks and McDonalds. Our teachers and students need to coexist on this plateau. Teachers need to let go of the reigns of the classroom, and let the students explore new media with subjects that interest them. Students need to be guided through this plateau. Schools need to begin making sustainable investments in technology to keep inspiring students around the world.