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The class of 2023 will expect mass customization

March 2, 2014

Picture a phone.

Depending on your age, you might have pictured:

  • A home phone with a cord.
  • A cordless home phone.
  • A mobile phone.
  • An iPod touch (Facetime)
  • A computer (Skype)

To my seven-year old daughter, all of the above are a phone. She can customize her experience with communication depending on how she wants to experience the conversation. If it needs pictures, she’ll adapt. If it is just words, she won’t adapt.

However, her grandparents mostly use the phone. They rarely call on the computer because when they picture a phone, they default to the phone.

We live in a time where audiences are customizing their experience. I listen to podcasts from the UK, watch Netflix and read The Globe and Mail. My daughter is currently watching Charlie and Lola on YouTube.

My daughter lives in a world where mass personalization is the norm. She will organize via playlists – not have playlists dictated to her as prime time lineups. She will organize the internet her way, not a newspaper’s way. She will organize her entertainment in the manner that works best for her, not his it is set up on a dial.

Colgate chapel photo by Andy Daddio

Colgate chapel photo by Andy Daddio

She will look at the world, and interact with brands differently than you and I. And she is coming. To her, customization will be the cost of business not an option we can throw out there to position our products.

So what does that mean for higher ed?

First of all, I think higher ed is already mass customized. By definition, a liberal arts  education isn’t mass produced. One can major in biochemistry and minor in theater.

A place with more options offers a chance to mass customize for students. The school where I work has 53 majors. That’s almost 3000 major/minor options – that is mass customization.

For someone who grows up with a playlist, getting one in college won’t be a change. The change, I think, is how we communicate something we already offer. The coming struggle will be that people who are getting used to mass customization will need to communicate to people who have already lived it.

We’ll need to change. Because the change is coming.

What do you think? Where does customization fit into the message of higher ed? Should it?

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