Education: Prescription or Subscription?

Posted: December 19, 2011 in Education Reform, Educational Leadership, Educational Technology

Doctors prescribe medicine based upon their knowledge of diseases, viruses, illnesses, etc.  They tend to know what is best to combat the sickness.  The only true choice we have in the matter is which doctor or in some cases (based upon past experiences) which forms of the medicines we’d prefer.  Ultimately, we are prescribed the remedy with little choice but to accept it as it will lead to getting well.

In 2004, America seemed to be in a medical malpractice “crisis“.  With all the concerns arising from this, America began to (and still may) question the prescriptions (treatment/diagnosis, etc) coming from medical providers.  Now, I am not here to debate the quality of our medical practices, but merely to set the stage for the bigger context of prescription vs. subscription.

Enter the “net” . . .

Americans began their trek to research medical advice and gain a better “education” prior to determining how they would proceed with treatment and/or at minimum who to go to (aka “choice”).  Sites such as and emerged to provide education to Americans on medical and health related issues.  Thus began the “subscription” approach to medicine.  Open content helped to inform people of their options/choices.  People “subscribe” (not pay per se, but “choose” to get info from them) to these sites to gain knowledge and feel more like they have a voice in their medical/health options. As Americans wish to become better informed and have more control over their medical/health choices, this trend has begun to invade education.  I use the term invade simply to imply that some may not want to see this trend, but realistically, it’s here, regardless.

The traditional industrial model that our education system is built on is steeped in a “prescriptive” philosophy.  We rely on politicians, educational leaders and teachers to basically tell us what we need to know in order to become productive citizens in today’s economy.  “Here is what you need to know . . .”, “Here is how you will learn it . .”, “You need to be doing it this way . . .”, I could go on and on right?  This philosophy is also seen in our higher ed structures as well.  We prescribe to teachers a model for how they should teach, what they should teach, etc. with very little consideration for their voice/input.  Even the PD models in many schools still reek of  “this is what you should know/be doing . . . ” and teachers aren’t given ample time/opportunity to provide feedback and more importantly, input for change.  Our students feel like school is “boring” because they have very little choice in how and what they learn. Teachers feel like because of standardized testing, they are told what to teach and how to teach it.  This trickles down and students become very disengaged.  Many of us may feel like we know what is best and that we should “prescribe” the what, when, where and how of education. But if we look at the trends . . .personalized education where students have choices and can “subscribe” to the what, when, where and how; is a model that has merit.

We are in the “subscription” mode as learners. We choose who to follow (subscribe to) on Twitter, we choose which RSS feeds we want to glean our knowledge from, and we set our preferences for style, medium, etc.  A great group of though leaders is working to define models of “learning circles” for teachers – follow #LCU hashtag for more.  These models point to the fact that learners (students, teachers, etc.) want to subscribe to knowledge versus have it prescribed for them. Take a look at some other national initiatives in open source “subscriptive” learning that may prove to be models for educational transformation.

Floating University –
The Conversation –

While I don’t see an immediate trend to Americans subscribing to their own treatments/medicines, I do think we’re moving to become much more informed on the “what, when, where & how” to proceed.  As for education, students are demanding the options and want a more subscription based approach to their learning.  Does this devalue the role of the teacher? principal? education administrator? Not at all . . . I think our role(s) will just have to be more along the lines of a marketeer . . .we have to have product and “stuff” that makes students want to subscribe to what we have to offer. Guiding the learning still resides behind all of the open source “stuff”, it’s call curation.  We are becoming curators of knowledge versus prescriptive “owners” of all the knowledge.


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