Friday, July 25, 2008

Pull Learning and Push Teaching

The concepts of "Push" and "Pull" are helpful to understand new directions in education. The business terms push and pull originated in the marketing and advertising world but are also applicable in a wide variety of other contexts. The push/pull relationship is that between a product or piece of information and who is moving it. A customer (student) "pulls" things towards themselves, while a producer (teacher) "pushes" things toward customers (students).

In a "push" system the consumer does not request the product to be developed; it is "pushed at" the end-user by promotion. An example of this is a perfume product. Women do not request to smell a fragrance they never smelled before; it is simply "pushed" at them, through the right advertisement. This works best where everyone wants the content being pushed based on long term forecasts and requests received from students or parents.
The weaknesses of push teaching are an inability to meet changing demand patterns, large and variable production batches, unacceptable service levels, and excessive inventories due to the need for large safety stocks.

In a "pull" system the consumer requests the product and "pulls" it through the delivery channel. An example of this is the car manufacturing company Ford Australia. Ford Australia only produces cars when they have been ordered by the customers. This works best when applied to that portion of the supply chain where demand uncertainty is high and production and distribution are demand driven.
There is no inventory because the response is to specific orders. Point of sale (POS) data (feedback from students) comes in handy when shared with supply chain partners (teachers, parents, administrators).
With this system there is a decrease in lead time and it is difficult to implement.

Too often in education we are pushing learning that the customer (student) doesn't want. This works well when it turns out they really like it once they see what it is but is very wasteful when they really don't want it or don't see any relevance.

The ideal is when students pull the learning by working on projects in which they are truly interested, see the relevance or need for knowing, and have some control over the process and direction. We sometimes think of this as "self-motivated" learning. Learning that is based on pull principles of relevance, meaningfulness, self-motivation, student-centered, and teaching when the student is ready for it ("just-in-time" teaching), is optimal for both students and teachers.

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