Technology, People, and Learning

My son Jesse, who’s 21, got us to re-watch a video today that Shelley (my wife) and I made way back in 1991 of a trip we made with some friends to Disneyland.  We used an 8mm mini-cam to record the Disney experience and edited using a VHS player that had a shuttle wheel.  Shelley wrote out the credits and introduction which we taped from a tri-pod facing the camera down to the paper “feed” while she slowly pulled it past the camera’s view.  We dubbed cassette tape music into the VHS player at key points to lay down some music tracks.  A two hour family movie was born.  It was a painful process with the technology available in 1991…

While re-watching the video I was impressed once again with the technical wizardry Disney used even 20 years ago.  The way they synchronized the characters in the Pirates of thimagee Caribbean or the Bear Jamboree and made them come to life was quite remarkable.

Video editing today is so much simpler than in 1991.  Even with free tools like iMovie or Movie Maker, one can do amazing things with video, images, music tracks, etc. With the tools available today, Disney Imagineers have a lot of new possibilities available to them.  Isn’t it amazing how they invent attractions and experiences that captivate millions of children and adults.  People keep coming back for more and spend a lot of money doing so.

Why is Disney so successful?  I’m reading a book imageby Lee Cockerell, a former executive of Disney where he shares Disney leadership strategies. I’m only half-way through but I think their focus on people (their employees are called Cast Members) and technology is the answer.  I like this quote he shares:
In times of drastic change, it is the learners who inherit the future” 
Isn’t that the truth hey.  He also says that:
Your people are your brand”
Disney’s purpose is:
“Be so nice to our guests that they won’t believe it” and “Make sure that every Guest has the most fabulous time of his or her life.”
So, technology aside, those of us who have had the pleasure of experiencing Disney’s magic know that without the people (well trained, great attitudes, well adapted) who make it worth the visit.  I think that we need to keep this fact in mind when we talk about the coming disruptions to education.

Some people think all learning will be online, self directed, and teachers won’t be as important.  I beg to differ.  I think most learning will be a blended combination of same place same time with a teacher guiding, sometimes teaching, and online, virtual, simulated, etc.  But, perhaps school systems should hire Disney Imagineers to design learning experiences.  Perhaps, school systems should practice the leadership strategies Disney bases its success on.  What if students, all of them, felt the pixie dust of learning the way kids and adults experience Disney?  With technology, learning can certainly move off the page and into some very engaging immersive online / digital experiences that connect with students passion.  That, should be the promise of technology for learning.

So what do you think about mixing Disney with School?  Or, using Disney as a model and guide for using technology to support learning?


  1. Interesting thought... I cannot help to think that if the curriculum was less prescriptive and teachers had the time to expand on more 'moments' in their classes, students could build on their 'wow' moments, especially through technology. I think designing a lesson with the wow factor in mind should always be a goal. Achieving this goal every day may be a challenge but why not try?
    Love the quote about learners. There is a similar quote from Eric Hoffer: “In times of change learners inherit the earth; while the learned find themselves beautifully equipped to deal with a world that no longer exists”.

  2. Great article, and the emphasis on people is dead-on. All challenges begin and end with... people. As to learning, particularly about technology, and in exposing the acceleration of coming demands - check out a book we use at work: "I.T. WARS". The author has a great blog, "The Business-Technology Weave" - you can Google to either.

  3. Chris: Maybe if kids are co-creators of learning activities with their teachers, perhaps the Disney type wow might be possible. Thanks for sharing the Eric Hoffer quote - I've used that one a few times myself.

    Janice: thanks for sharing the book reference - I'll check it out for sure - I love to read!

  4. Walt Disney was a visionary thinker who was ahead of his time. Today, the Walt Disney corporation has annual revenues of 35 billion dollars. When someone mentions Walt Disney, I can't help but think about a long-standing urban legend that maintains that after Walt Disney died he was cryogenically frozen. There is no evidence that this actually took place. It is interesting that you mentioned 'The Pirates of the Caribbean' in your article, because it also plays a role in the urban legend. Anyone who is interested can read more about it on Wikipedia.

    I don't think the principles of a corporation mix with the goals of education. In fact, I think this is a problem, we are starting to run education like a business, where we treat students like clients.

    One of my favourite quotes that relates to the Disney experience is by the Canadian author, and lower mainland resident, Douglas Coupland, who is the voice of Generation X. He said "Adventure without risk is Disneyland".

  5. Jens, I believe that there are good lessons that we in education can learn from many types of organizations, including corporations. One needs to apply what we learn, in context. What I meant to convey was that Disney's "magic" in how engaging the place and the activities are might be a helpful way to design some K12 learning experiences. Kids often talk about how bored they are in school - if it had a Disney feel to it, maybe that would change...


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