Wednesday, December 30, 2009

2010's Model Defined for Shaping Music Education: Lessons Learned from Facebook

By Mark Burke

There is no question in my mind that those of us in the music education field can revolutionize the way we teach using modern technology.  The web has the ability to connect those who have long been disconnected.  Facebook is a great example of how a solution was developed to enable old and new friends alike to connect, converse, and share.  Facebook is also a great model for what I believe is the answer to truly adding value to music education.  Simply connecting teachers to students via the web has limited value by itself.  Had Facebook created just another discussion forum, they would be no different than the 10s of thousands of common place web communities.  However, the folks at Facebook thought through the total "reconnection/connection" experience to ensure they provided the tools to do just that.  They are obviously providing a host of services so that each of us can choose those we desire the most and use them to share.  If you like to share photos, you can do that.  If you like to share your thoughts while on the road, you can use their mobile services.  If you like to play games, you can play by yourself or with others.  By providing multiple reconnection and connection mechanisms, Facebook has created a world that millions now find ingrained into their daily lives. 

What does this mean for the music education industry?  Here are my lessons learned from Facebook.

Being "Online" is Not Enough
Simply providing lessons via the web has limited value.  Like Facebook, we must create a dynamic and enriching experience for our students by providing multiple tools and services.  If students simply log on and play a few exercises for their teacher and then log off, we will have built the music equivalent to a discussion board. While this may be valuable to a point, the long term advantages to the student are limited.  So what must we do? 

1.  Educators must have a plan for EACH lesson.  While most instrumental music lessons are reactive, online teaching must be proactive.  Knowing what you are going to cover ahead of time, sharing that with the student and sticking to your plan is a must.

2.  Evaluate, Evaluate, Evaluate.  Your plan should easily be turned into an evaluation for the student.  At the end of the lesson, share the results, and build the next plan from that.  Ad-hoc lessons will quickly demonstrate how little value simply spending time online can have.

3.  Provide supporting content.  When not engaging with students, provide content for the students but don't just let the students alone to search their way through the content.  Be available for support, guide them through the content, share with them outside of the actual lessons - ENGAGE the student totally in the act of learning music.

Community Is Key
Facebook counts on numbers. I know I can count on a ton of variety when I log in each day.  Some days I hear from a certain friend, other days another.  The real value of Facebook is in the community that provides variety.

Music educators often consider ourselves islands.  We have been trained since day 1 that our job is to solely educate our students.  We have been taught to be the "Directors", the "Conductors", the person in charge.  Often in schools we find ourselves isolated, fending for ourselves to attract students to our programs and keep them involved.  We have grown to become the controllers of our domain.

To create a powerful music education experience, we must unite our abilities, communicate our skills efficiently and promote the power of our collaboration.  To do so, we need a new kind of musical organization. What will that organization look like?

1. The organization will unite forward thinking, open minded music educators who are aware of the current state of our art and field of music education. Through our network of professional, energetic music educators, we can provide students of all ages with centralized instruction AND expanded opportunities to learn from others.

2.  We must recognize and reward educators for their ability to share their talents in innovative ways.  On Facebook, those who post the most engaging content are those that get followed.  The new "news feed" is a great example of how we measure successful engagement in their online community.  If you create a post that gets responses, then you "score" higher and have a chance of appearing in the news feed.  Being followed is a reward. 

3.  By sharing the accomplishments of our students openly, we provide a motivation tool like no other.  Students witnessing the success of other students encourages growth. Our new organization will harness the web to showcase students performances and share the learning experience with others.

Community Is Business
Behind the scenes at Facebook, you will no doubt find a business driven organization.  Providing the services they do is big business and as such, business conversations and actions drive them forward.  Our new organization will be staffed by driven individuals with musical talent and business savvy.  Most importantly, the organization will be filled with individuals who know our art will die unless we drive toward our goals.  The folks at Facebook are driving and driving to capture and maintain an ever growing portion of our time per day.  As music educators, we can learn from their approach.  We have options.  We can sit on the sideline and watch others play the game, or we can join in.  Not so many years ago, we battled to get our students to spend 1 hour per day practicing.  I witnessed that goal shrank to 30 minutes per day 10 years ago, then to 20, now 15.  We've tried practice charts, signed logs, extra credit, stars, candy and any other reward and recognition.  Now what? The answers will be developed once we get off the sideline. 

1.  Our new organization will redefine our approach to business.  Our first step is to engage those who want to get off the sideline and start playing the game.  Our staff will be filled by individuals who awake each day thinking about how they can help students reach their goals, how to get desiring students on board and how to reestablish music in our world.  Ideas will be generated.  But we will be valued only if we can act on our ideas and carry out our mission ourselves.

2.  We must give musical power back to students. Is the creation of music fun and rewarding for students?  Do they feel empowered to create music, or do they feel they are being told to create music?  Our organization will spend our time creating services and products to ensure students want to create music each and every day.  Like Facebook, we will provide services that build a desire in students to spend precious time each day with our organization, making music for themselves.

3.  We will influence the way young teachers are trained.  Facebook has revolutionized the way Marketing majors are trained.  Organizations with existing Marketing staff are also finding they must train their staff to harness the power of Facebook (and other web 2.0 applications to be fair).  Our organization will have a choice to either re-train existing professionals or be part of our upcoming professionals foundational training.  While efforts will go to both, our belief is that new students entering the field of music education will only be successful if they apply innovation to their educational approach. Therefore, they must be exposed to innovation during the formative years.  Our organization will help shape undergraduate programs as part of our business model. When young professional enter the field, they will hit the ground running, aware of how to help students reach their goals, no longer thinking of the themselves as the sole solution.

So I've given away our "secret plan" for viaAcademies.  While the bulk of 2009 was spent building our instructional foundation, we also had our ears firmly placed on the railroad tracks and our eyes on the horizon.  What we heard and saw was a clear sign that our art is primed and ready for change.  We see a pixelated portrait of what lies ahead, waiting for an organization to bring the view into focus.  We know we will not do this alone, that's why we share our goals.

We are in the process of finishing our 2009 course development and setting our sites on the actionable tasks for January 2010.  The two important take-aways from this message are:
  • We are forming a network of educators who match the description above.  Our network of teachers will work directly with our students (those who enroll at viaAcademies) as well as provide extra services for students in innovative brick and mortar programs around our country. 
  • In addition, we recognize the power of uniting teachers from around the country to reach out to students, helping them reach their musical goals while building online studios for dispersed teachers.  For teachers, we will provide the infrastructure, curriculum and training to help you reach more students.
What we have learned from Facebook is that to reach our goals, we must innovate, communicate and educate. We must also organize ourselves and set clear actionable goals.  And above all, it is us who add value to what we want to accomplish.  Our own ideas are only good if we act on them. We must create followers by creating a really great thing to follow.

If you are interested in learning more about viaAcademies or becoming part of our teacher network, please feel free to email me at


  1. I recently came accross your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I dont know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.


  2. Alanna -- thank you for the kind comments. I appreciate you spending time with us. And thank you for the link.

    Best wishes
    Mark Burke
    CEO, viaAcademies