A few years back, I spoke with educator and classroom designer Ryan Bretag about learning spaces.
He made a comment that he liked to take school administrators to Apple Stores and to coffee shops to see how people interact with their environments, when not in a classroom environment. (You can watch my 2011 interview with here)
That stuck in my mind , and I have been thinking about what is it about Apple Stores that make them places not only where people end up buying stuff, but just wanting to hang out in. Have you ever been the the Apple Store at Cielo Vista Mall ?
The entire mall can be dead, yet the Apple Store is almost always buzzing with activity. What makes these places attractive enough so that people off the street will come in and want to just hang out? The buying experience in a Apple Store is almost so low pressure , one might wonder if they are even try to sell you anything.
And what lessons can we take away from these places and use them in our classrooms?
Imagine of we were able to escort government, educational and business leaders from all over El Paso to the Apple Store for one hour and make them watch in silence. Force them to watch the reassuring constants of skilled, motivated employees working with satisfied customers.
The Apple Store is a cool place to be. How many businesses can say that?
If you watch, in silence, you will see that the employees have a knowledge of every single thing in the store. One can ask a question about almost any Apple product ever produced and chances are there is someone in the store with the answer to your question.
“Come into our store and explore. Touch. Feel. We don’t think you are scum and don’t think that you are going to steal from us. We expect you to be amazed by us.” Someone dressed as a hobo gets the exact same treatment as the businessman in the three piece suit, as the soccer mom with the three kids in tow, as the lesbian couple, as the guy with the facial tattoos. “Come here and see tech as the great equalizer.” seems to be the motto of every Apple Store.
How many businesses, government agencies or educational institutions have that much confidence in their products, their employees, and their environment to have that kind of swagger? Maybe Starbucks comes close. But any business now that has that look and feel is copying the Apple Store.
If you walk into any store today that has wooden floors, light wood furniture, big, lit graphics, and all the employees wearing the same t-shirts, you are in a business that has tried to copy the Apple Store experience. The model of the Apple Store has been with us since the first one opened in 2001.
For a look at an Apple Store, of course there is a video:
I suppose in order to really understand the Apple Store experience and compare it to a classroom, it might be interesting to look at a typical Apple Store floor plan. You can basically divide the store into thirds:
The third closest to the door is product display. Phones, watches, tablets, computers., speakers, etc.
The middle third of for training on the product you just bought.
The back third is devoted to a “Genius Bar” where customers can go to troubleshoot or ask questions about things that are not working like they expect. This section also has products for sale. (In some stores, there is a small theater in this section devoted to training.)
So, you have three sections:
Customers can freely move from one section to another, and in each section, there are people to help answer questions. You can move from exploring a product to training on a product to asking questions all within a few feet.
Product, Training, In Depth Learning. The three areas of an Apple Store.
There are some things that are atypical in an Apple store:
There is no real front and back. There is no “checkout.” There is no one area that is more important than any other area. In a typical store, the checkout always has the de facto “most important” area because that is where the transaction takes place. In an Apple store, the transaction can take place anywhere in the store.
There are no big screen TVs tuned to ESPN or Fox News or the Cooking Channel. Any screen is about the product and the service offered in the store. That is all. Go to a bar and grill to watch the NBA playoffs. Here, it is all about the product.
Now think of a typical school classroom floor plan:
Sadly, most typical secondary classes look like this: Rows of chairs, teacher at the front. Of course there are variations of this theme, like the famous aisle-down-the-middle or the common “If it is a U Shape, we can have discussions” layout.
But no matter the layout, the room is designed for a single person to lead the learning. The teacher in the front , learning, if taking place at all, takes place in the seats. There is a place that is “most important” and that is always the teacher’s desk.
So, the sections of a typical classroom:
Teacher in front
Learners in seats
Classrooms that have a “center-based” approach are better at moving towards a non-traditional classroom experience, but the learning is still “centered” (pardon the pun) around the teacher. Look at this effort to create a floor plan for a center-based class:
Even in this pretty good effort, the class is essentially grouped around the teacher center. “All eyes on the teacher.”
Suppose we take the areas of an Apple Store, and convert them to areas in a theoretical classroom. Remember the three areas:
Product, Training, In Depth Learning. The three areas of an Apple Store.
In a classroom, we could convert those into:
Introduction of topic(product), traditional learning (training) and Exploration (in depth learning).
Introduction of Topic would be an area where students could begin to explore the information that they will be learning. They haven’t bought the product yet (heaven’t learned too much about the topic) and are just looking at how the topic works, why it might be interesting, and whether or not the topic is worth further exploration. Maybe they want to buy, maybe they need to be convinced to buy, maybe they need to be shown the benefits of buying. All this happens in the Introduction of Topic area.
Training is an area where students can about the topic, either from themselves or from the teacher. All the material, from texts to video to audio is available for them to learn from. They can teach each other what they learn, can get lectures from the teacher or from online content, they can read ebooks. Here, they have “bought the product” (started formally learning the topic) and are now in the process of learning all about the product. They can still move back to the Intro area, or if they are feeling good about the learning they can move to the Exploration area.
Exploration is the area where students go in-depth into the subject and create content related to the topic, whether it be multimedia, audio, text based, or traditional work. Of course they can move back to the other two areas and get information, and they can even see what others have created (products form other students). Exploration allows students to meet up with other students to go more in depth into a topic. This is the Genius Bar, where students can learn from each other.
So, can you make your class an Apple Store-type environment? Can you make your business an Apple Store experience? It is worth exploring, if for nothing else allowing students to experience an alternative to the 6 rows or 5 chairs in each class they experience in every other class. Oh, and by the way, Apple Stores have very few chairs. It encourages you to move about and talk and interact with each other and the product.
Talk about swagger.
Author: Tim Holt is an educator and writer, with over 33 years experience in education and opines on education-related topics here and on his own award-winning blog: HoltThink. He values your feedback.
Feel free to leave a comment. Read his previous columns here.