Friday 17 December 2010

Marketing double-binds: educational conversations with businesses and learners

I've been wondering if educational institutions (maybe all institutions) develop a sort of 'cultural autism' where their internal conversations become incomprehensible to outsiders. With educational institutions, this is particularly problematic, because they are constantly seeking to 'engage' with learners, businesses, community leaders, etc, but these engagements are often framed by internal conversations of the institution, rather than the real needs and problems of learners, business, the community, etc. It is certainly very hard to find the grounds for having a conversation with businesses or community leaders where there is a deep level of mutual understanding and empathy and where ways forward address everyone's needs.

Part of the problem may be the premise for conversation and what it means to different parties. There is usually asymmetry between the needs for the conversation for each party: for example, businesses maintain their viability through doing other things than talking to people (they make and sell products, for example). Universities maintain their viability by awarding degrees, where this is the result of conversations of a different kind. Conversation for a business may be a way of marketing products or increasing productivity, but its core profitable activity will involve skilled performances beyond talk. Does business not sometimes perceive universities as 'all talk'??

More generally, education might be perceived by business as a 'good thing' - but the motivation for having the conversation on the part of a business may sometimes be more philanthropic than practical and strategic. The university, on the other hand, is having a conversation with business because it needs the conversation to continue into those conversations which it can charge for. It is, in short, marketing. But why should business be tempted? What skilled performances beyond words are valuable to it? Ideally, the University might have developed a fledgling product which the business might be enthusiastic about and take on. But these are rare cases.

Institutions are geared for conversations with individuals as potential learners. The institution markets a 'human good' and a status symbol which accompanies that good. The conversation with business often revolves around rather loose talk about 'skills' - but this is rarely well-defined; 'skills' so often disappoint. The marketing conversation with learners is more successful because learners perceive a need in themselves which the University offers to meet. I'm wondering if the needs that learners perceive in themselves is related to some double-bind that they find themselves in. It may be that this double-bind find some requisite variety in the double-bind presented by education: the two cancel each other out, the match is made.

There's a bigger topic relevant to marketing and double binds. I've been thinking that buying Christmas presents is an interesting experience! Maybe the variety of the double bind that we all find ourselves in at Christmas can only be matched by the double-binds of shopping brands and products. Does society position learners in a sort of 'Christmas state' which can only be matched by educational double-binds? Should the university be trying to unpick the double-binds of businesses to position them in a way where they too might see value in the double-binds of education? Is education becoming more aware of its own double-binds a step towards active awareness of the position of its customers? It's probably not a bad thing to do.

Ultimately, I think this is about educational institutions becoming rather more empathic - and smarter about the irrationalities of the world in which they operate. Difficult for an institution which fundamentally is built upon the principle of rationality!

No comments: