By Michael B. Horn
“He who controls the metaphor controls the debate.” – David Gergen
Among the many lessons I learned from my time working for David Gergen, an advisor to four U.S presidents and now the director of the Center for Public Leadership at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, was that metaphors matter in public life. The prevailing metaphor in a field shapes the contours of a conversation.
For years, education techno-enthusiasts have awaited breathlessly the arrival of an “Amazon” or “Netflix of Education.” What they mean essentially is a platform that can use big data to deliver the right learning experience at the right time for each learner. The metaphor stems from the way Netflix “learns” about your viewing preferences based on what you watch, and is then able to recommend shows and movies you’re likely to enjoy (and may not otherwise discover) based on others with similar viewing patterns. Similarly, Amazon recommends products for you based on what you search for and buy and based on others who have shown similar preferences.
Adaptive learning companies haven’t shied away from the analogy either, as descriptions of themselves as “a sort of Netflix for learning” are not unusual.
The metaphor feels increasingly flawed, however.