Whenever we design one thing for many users, we rationalise that if we ‘design it for the average’, we’ll have a good fit for most users. An example of this was in 1926, when the US Air Force was coming up with a design for their first fleet of fighter planes. They constructed the cockpits based on the average measurements of over 100 of their prospective Top Gun pilots. After around 25 years of inexplicable crashes involving highly trained pilots, they decided to revise their cockpit design. They doubled down on their assumption about designing it for the average pilot, and this time they took many more measurements from over 4000 pilots, hoping to have ‘a better average’. But the plane crashes they put down to ‘human error’ only increased.
As Koa Academy CEO and Principal, Mark Anderson tells the story: “Then along came Lieutenant Gilbert S Daniels, a Harvard graduate who had studied the law of averages. He had a firm belief that if you wanted to design something for an individual human being, the average was useless. He went on to prove this by studying the data of the 4000 pilots and showing that not one of them fell into the ten most basic average measurements, even with a generous 30% margin of error. In other words, not one of the individual pilots was average in every way, and so none of them fitted into the cockpit with optimal access to all the aircraft’s controls.”
Daniels concluded that in designing a cockpit for the average, they had effectively designed ‘a cockpit for no one’. Anderson maintains that the same is true for our traditional education system. “Teaching to the middle is simply not a good way to educate individual human beings; it’s not a good way for any child to learn. We’ve known this for a long time, and school leaders, teachers and parents have been yearning for a shift from teaching to the middle to teaching the individual child.”
Finding the ways to individualise learning has been a passion for Anderson since his early days of teaching. Technology has been a key to unlocking how one education system can individualise learning for many. “We’ve finally solved the dilemma of teaching to the middle, where some are frustrated and bored, and others are frustrated and confused,” he says. At Koa Academy, a high engagement online school, learners in close-knit Pods are working at their own pace on personalised pathways and engaging with content that is delivered optimally for them. Their progress is tracked and measured against targets that each individual child has set under the guidance of their teacher. When the US Air Force finally introduced adaptable features in their cockpits and each pilot could fit optimally, crashes due to ‘human error’ became very rare. In the same way, no child gets left behind, or gets left unattended out ahead, because their learning path is highly adaptable to their unique learning needs.
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