All About Relationships: CRM in EDU

There are a handful of big companies that really understand customer relationships in a deep way.  A couple of them sell this expertise in the form of customer relationship management (CRM) software and related consulting. Wikipedia says:

CRM is a widely implemented strategy for managing a company’s interactions with customers, clients and sales prospects. It involves using technology to organize, automate, and synchronize business processes—principally sales activities, but also those for marketing, customer service, and technical support. The overall goals are to find, attract, and win new clients, nurture and retain those the company already has, entice former clients back into the fold, and reduce the costs of marketing and client service.

Education is a relationship enterprise but we’re lacking basic relationship management systems.  Student information systems (SIS) track basic student records.  Sometimes they are connected to a gradebook, but that only includes a handful of marks per semester.  Some learning management systems (LMS) and data systems like SchoolNet turn a little assessment data into dashboards that help monitor achievement.  These companies help schools make the best of limited information.  Almost everyone in education has a data poverty mindset.
“In contrast,” notes startup Junyo, “Popular web sites such as Google, Facebook, and Zynga collect millions of data points for each user throughout the day which are used to improve search results, recommend friends, and make games more fun.The shift to personal digital learning will bring a flood of data.  Most digital content will include embedded assessment and will provide continuous feedback to the learner.  Every assignment will leave a trail of keystrokes that could yield valuable achievement data.  Digital learners will provide 2 million data points each year instead of 200 marks in a gradebook.It’s time for sophisticated relationship management in education.  It’s time for comprehensive and portable learner profiles that track:
  • evidence of skill progression (perhaps a badge system)
  • diagnosis of skill gaps and learning differences
  • motivational data about the kinds of experiences that produce persistence
  • exposure to colleges and careers
  • development of self-management and project-management skills
  • service activities, fitness progress, behavior records, and more

Ideally, any service provider should be able to contribute to and benefit from this record.  That requires families to manage student profile privacy they way they manage their Facebook profile.
Where to start?  Pilot projects with online or blended schools (particularly flex models where core instruction is online) would take advantage of digital learning environments where kids are already kicking out 10,000 keystrokes daily.  It would help if there were multiple locations (like different Connections Academy  or K12 schools that use a common school management system) where units of study could be varied across diverse student groups for active experimentation.
The development of School of One, the NYC middle school math program, is a useful example.  It started in summer school, moved to after school, and is being piloted in several middle schools.
Who could pull this off?  There are big CRM shops like Salesforce and TeleTech, data shops like IBM and Palantir, and entrepreneurial startups like Junyo and Knowillage.  With the right education partners, they could push beyond traditional CRM to real educational intelligence for personalized competency-based environments.

Tom Vander Ark

Tom Vander Ark is the CEO of Getting Smart. He has written or co-authored more than 50 books and papers including Getting Smart, Smart Cities, Smart Parents, Better Together, The Power of Place and Difference Making. He served as a public school superintendent and the first Executive Director of Education for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

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