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Monday, July 20, 2009

The Educational Value of Apollo 11

In 1961, when President John F. Kennedy announced the goal of landing a man on the moon by the end of the decade, it was a Big Hairy Audacious Goal (BHAG). No country had ever put a man on the moon but a mere eight years later the goal was accomplished. The country geared up and achieved its goal.

What Kennedy did not do was announce "by the end of this decade we will teach more math and science" or "by the end of this decade we will have more standardized tests" or "by the end of this decade we will lengthen the school day."

No, instead he set a goal and motivated the country to work toward that goal.

The educational value wasn't in the education at all, it was in achieving the goal. Education is a means to an end, it is not the end.

When we think of education and learning and development efforts we need to ignore the education and learning pieces and reach for the goal. Learning and development professionals need to be focused on organizational goals...not learning goals.

Enabling the organization is the goal, achieving BHAGs is the mission, bettering the position of people or the company or organization is what we need to achieve. More tests, more training or more homework is not a GOAL. Yet, too often our training and education efforts get in the way of achieving goals.

Our goals need to drive learning, learning cannot be accomplished without goals, without difficult to reach and seemingly unattainable goals. We cannot spend all our time tweaking training when BHAGs need to be met.

Take the lesson of Apollo and putting a man on the moon as a lesson in goal setting...once a goal is set, a vision brought into focus, the learning will follow.


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Joe Mendrzycki said...

Agreed, Karl. The debate now is whether the new US goal of returning to the Moon is the right one, or can we better inspire the new generation with a goal to reach Mars. It is an interesting question.

Also... folks can check my blog,, to get to the link, "We Choose the Moon"... the site is currently reliving the Apollo 11 mission. It's a great example of mixing today's tools with archive footage from '69.

Mark Burke said...

Great point Karl. I am on a SIG for NECC 2010 (ISTE 2010). Our mission is to promote a wider infusion of the Arts withing ISTE events. Today I posted a charge that we must think about what our goals are rather than thinking about what new musictech tool to buy (and figure out what to do with it later).

I am convinced that it is harder to think of the educational goals. But, somehow, we have convinced ourselves that we must. As an example, I want our organization to create better people -- end of story. Through music we can do that. It makes no difference what instrument, or what book kids use. I want them to grow through music. I want them to be tolerant, more expressive, quicker on their feet, global thinkers etc.

Thanks for posting.