Picture this: Not so long ago (circa 2008), you left your house, went to your local brick-and-mortar store, and rented a video from Blockbuster. At its peak, Blockbuster had over 9,000 locations and amassed $6 billion in annual revenue. It was a near-monopoly.
Sure, there were a few mom and pop video stores around, but for the most part, Blockbuster was it.
Blockbuster touted a customized experience, including all genres of DVDs as well as the most popular video games. What’s more, Blockbuster responded to customers’ needs by providing snacks, popcorn, candy, and soda. Yet here we are just 12 years later, and only one Blockbuster remains — an independent location in Bend, Oregon.
Well, the same thing is happening in education today — an educational “Netflix” revolution is occurring.
In 1997, Reed Hastings was angry because he just returned a DVD and was charged a $40 late fee. (Ironically, the title he returned was “Apollo 13.”) “Blockbuster, we have a problem!”
As a serial tech entrepreneur, Hastings co-founded a DVD mail order service known as Netflix. To hear him describe the early days of Netflix, the opportunity was clear: Why would people want to leave their home, receive subpar customer service, and wait in long lines only to be hit with huge late fees? (Blockbuster reported that nearly 70% of its income was generated from late fees.)
So, Netflix was launched, and in just a few short years it exploded as a mail-order service.
In 2008, Blockbuster CEO, Jim Keyes, was quoted as saying, “Netflix [is] not even on the radar screen in terms of competition.”
Fast forward to today, where over 40% of all students in Florida’s K-12 system are choosing online streaming for education. For a variety of reasons, families are demanding educational streaming services that are customized to their unique situation.
Does the K-12 system think this is just a passing fad and that the vast majority of our students will simply return to the pre-2020 environment? If so, the established K-12 education system is positioned to be the latest Blockbuster failure.
For years, families have asked for customization and our K-12 system believed they were providing it. Instead, in a majority of our districts, schools were mimicking the Blockbuster-style of customization by simply repackaging the same education services without truly innovating the teaching style, methods, or learning environment.
Those of us in the education sphere can simply stick our heads in the sand and repeat Blockbuster’s failed response. We can tell ourselves that as soon as the COVID-19 crisis is over, things will get back to normal. But history certainly tells us otherwise.
As a result of COVID-19, families are more than willing to give online education a try. Sure, there are concerns with this new medium of education for learners, including socio-emotional health, quality, equity, accountability, and socialization. But let’s not deceive ourselves: the online education environment is here to stay.
A significant number of families will try online education for the first time this school year and may never return to a brick and mortar school.
Educators, school leaders, and policymakers from the ’90s Blockbuster generation would be wise to take note and quickly adapt to this emerging environment or our current public education model will soon become obsolete just like Blockbuster’s brick-and-mortar stores.
Perhaps this may be just what we need to happen.
John Legg, Ed.D. served as a school administrator and classroom teacher in Pasco County for over 20 years. He is the former Chairman of the Senate K-12 form 2012-2016, Speaker Pro-Tempore of the Florida House from 2010-2012, and chair of House K-12 from 2008-2010. Legg holds a Doctorate in Education in Program Development and Sustainable Educational Innovation.