Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Lessons from WDW 3: Guestology

This is part three in a series in which I explore the question: What elements of the Disney culture could be applied to educational design.

I read a blog post the other day from the Disney Institute that used a word I liked: Guestology.

Their definition for this fanciful word was "the study of the people for whom we provide service."

If you've ever booked a vacation with Disney, you know that they take this seriously. Sometimes it can feel like they are collecting more information about you than is necessary or comfortable. They go beyond simply asking if you have any special room requests. They want to know if you are celebrating anything during your visit, how old each member of your party is, if anyone has any dietary needs, and the list goes on.

When I first encountered this, I was a little cynical about it. They just want this information so that they can sell me the product, I mused. And to be clear, they do want to sell me the product. I got online the other day just to see what it might cost to go to WDW with my family in March. I wasn't looking to book; I was just doing the research. Two days later, I received an email from Disney that was seriously trying to sell the product, complete with pictures of the resort I had been looking at. So, yes, I know they are collecting all kinds of data, and I know that they will put that to use, trying to get me to book my next vacation. (Disney, if you're reading this, I really need there to be a free dining plan in the mix before I can commit).

Here's the thing, though. I don't mind.

When Disney collects that information (as well as all of the other information that they gather) they start to get a clearer picture of who I am in relationship to their experience. The more information I contribute, the more personalized my vacation becomes with them, and the more valuable it becomes to me. I don't want the base-model Disney experience. I want the Disney experience that is tailored to me and my family.

Disney folks are constantly collecting information to help them make the experience better for the individual guest. When I'm online researching, a chat window appears and invites me to ask questions. When I call to make dinner reservations, the booking agent asks questions to see if I've been there before, if I have particular needs, and if I am celebrating anything. Then he asks if I have any questions. When we meet a character, that character engages us in conversation and takes the time to make us feel recognized. Most importantly, all of these team members use the data they collect to make my visit better by making recommendations, sharing updated information, and giving me insider views on topics of interest.

So what does this have to do with education?

In education, we collect all kinds of data about kids. In the best situations we use that data to enhance their experiences in our schools and classrooms. Great teachers know that the best way to differentiate for kids and enhance their learning is to get to know the kids so well that you can tailor the learning to their interests, personalities, strengths and passions. Great administrators know that behavior improves when you know kids by name and can talk to them about their lives.

I wonder, though, how often we allow a kid to go unnoticed. How often do we let kids settle for the base-model of education because we aren't collecting enough of the right kinds of data, because we are focusing on the wrong kinds of data, or because we don't use the data we have to make sure that each child feels like the product we are selling was made just for them.

Data-collection can often seem cold and impersonal. It can make a person feel as though the system views them as a mere collection of numbers and factoids. I prefer Disney's approach to data. By focusing on Guestology, data-collection becomes a form of relationship-building. Maybe educators need a quirky word to point to so that we don't lose focus on what is important. Learnerology? Kidology? I'd love to know your ideas.

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