When Apple first introduced the iPhone in 2007, it was received with skepticism, intrigue, and wonder. Since its initial launch twelve years ago, the evolution of the iPhone has continued to win over consumers and develop an unparalleled level of brand loyalty that industries can learn some lessons from, even higher education. Because, let’s face it, if the development of the iPhone required higher education collaboration, this would be an Android world.
The iPhone did more than disrupt the tech industry, it changed the way people viewed communication and, ultimately, access to information. While the iPhone was developed initially to challenge the emerging smartphone market, it eventually became clear that its value extended beyond simple communication. Apple was able to add a human connection to an inanimate device through its touch interface. It maximized the human need for social interaction by connecting the user to the product. Using this foundation, Apple continued to enhance the iPhone to meet the needs of a demanding and shifting consumer population. Apple accomplished this revolution without apology or permission. They understood their purpose, focused their passion, and met the needs of its consumers.
Today, we face the same opportunity to revolutionize higher education. We just need to apply some proven principles.
Give the People What They Want: Never before did people stand in line for hours, if not days, waiting for a new product release. The iPhone created an unprecedented demand among consumers. It was more than a digital device. It was an extension of ourselves. The iPhone made lives easier. At our fingertips, we can make a reservation, deposit a check, read the latest political thriller, catch up on Game of Thrones, send out a few hundred emails, and call mom all before the six o’clock news.
Students today come from all walks of life. Many are busy adult professionals. They are working single parents. They are aspiring entrepreneurs. They are you and me. We need education to be accessible and work on our schedule. Everyone understands that education is important. We see the value. We just need access. This access is likely not going to look like it has in the past, but that does not meet it is less effective. Just look at the iPhone. Higher education has an opportunity to increase demand by offering flexible education designed to meet students where they are and not just hold on to the traditional higher education tenants of the past.
Be App Happy: Apple engaged consumers, developers, and brands through its App Store. It built a community that fostered a mutually shared benefit while enhancing consumers’ interaction with the iPhone. Apple created options designed to promote its product while creating value.
Life throws us all curve balls. These diversions can make a traditional academic semester with specific attendance requirements difficult, if not impossible, to manage. Technology offers a solution to traditional higher education pathways by providing a means for alternative solutions. Higher education tends to make assumptions on how best to meet students and employers’ needs but does not effectively seek out the opinions of either. Higher education has an opportunity to collaborate with students and employers and design pathways to allow students to achieve their academic goals and provide employers with knowledgeable graduates ready for success.
Pulling the Outfit Together: The iPhone also started the obsession with accessories. Consumers could purchase everything from functional iPhone cases (e.g. including bottle opener) to the quirky NES Controller case and everything in between. Accessories provided a way for the user to communicate their personality by personalizing their iPhone.
Students bring their own life experiences and perspectives with them when they enter a classroom or online learning environment. They also bring their own expectations, learning styles, and academic goals. One-size fits all education no longer meets the needs of a shifting student population. Students need to know that their educational institution cares about their individual success. Higher education has an opportunity to personalize education through analytic software, student-oriented support services, and relevant academic activities designed to develop students’ marketable skills.
Playing Nice with Others: Apple developed WebKit, an open-source HTML5 rendering engine used in Safari and other applications. Apple could have easily maintained WebKit as proprietary product, but instead it released it for open use. In doing so, WebKit set the standard for mobile web browsers.
Higher education has faced serious criticism when it comes to issues relating to credit transferability, demonstrating quality, and rising tuition costs. Students have freedom of choice when it comes to selecting an academic path that meets their needs. Ultimately, the success of higher education relies on student achievement and communicating recognized value. The pathway to earning a degree should be easy. Higher education has an opportunity to streamline the process which, in the end, benefits everyone. Institutions would see an increase in graduation rates, a decrease in tuition costs, and less frustration by not unnecessarily requiring students to repeat courses. Ultimately, collaboration raises quality expectations.
User-friendly: There is no denying that Apple products are pretty. Steve Jobs was obsessed with sleek designs, clean edges, and monochromatic colors. Apple products appeal to the eye, but setting aside the aesthetics, it’s the iPhone’s functionality and usability that wins consumers over. Apple products are approachable. The friendly Apple greeters answer questions. Consumers can schedule appointments at the Genius Bar for one-on-one tutorials and product assistance. Apple delivers consistent, quality products that continue to foster brand loyalty.
Students expect clearly presented academic options offered with comprehensive support. Earning a degree is a commitment. Demands on students’ time can distract them from their academic goals. Higher education has an opportunity to remove the confusion and anxiety around pursuing a degree. Students deserve a user-friendly education in return for their investment. Higher education should be approachable, remove obstacles, and offer a support system that anticipates students’ needs.
Apples’ success is not the result of an accident or the stars coming into alignment. Apple follows a clearly defined mission. All products are designed with the consumer in mind. These are clear lessons higher education can use to demonstrate value, quality, and achieve its purpose in educate the next generation so they can continue to positively impact an ever-changing world.
“What is Apple, after all? Apple is about people who think outside the box, people who want to use computers to help them change the world, to help them create things that make a difference, and not just to get a job done.” ~ Steve Jobs
So, what is higher education?