Why should a school invest in the time and expense of introducing LEGO Education Robotics? This blog aims to answer that from the perspective of marketing for a school’s long-term success.
Starting with the assumption that all schools are, to greater or lesser extents, businesses, and that parents and students are their clients, with the ability to change schools if they choose, it can be seen that having differentiators, ‘something special’, a competitive advantage, is key for the school’s long-term success. These differentiators distinguish schools, and if this distinction is sustained over time, a school can become renowned for it, assuring a sustained intake of promising students.
Differentiators may be less of a factor in some cases, such as if there are a limited number of local schools for parents to send their children to, or where the government might place some students in specific schools as others have reached their limit. But the other schools reached their limit because parents chose to send their children there, presumably because they judged one school to be better than the other.
Differentiators can be classified as short-term or long-term, depending on how easy it is for competing schools to gain access to the differentiating product or service. A product or service that can be bought and ‘bolted-on’ is a short-term differentiator; other schools can follow suit and the competitive advantage is quickly eroded. Longer-term advantages take time to build, but they last longer and result in more-loyal clients (parents).
Schools are aware of their own, and other schools’ differentiators and advantages. Some schools are renowned for, and position themselves as, superior sporting schools and aim to attract students who will continue this tradition. Other schools position themselves as ‘academic’ schools, attracting academically-gifted students. These positions have been built over time, through attracting the best possible mix of capable and enthusiastic teachers, who are supported by forward-thinking management, effective training and excellent equipment, which produce students who excel.
The size and nature of differentiators depends on the competing schools. In rural areas a large differentiator between schools might be the provision of electricity and running water. In urban areas, where most schools have access to these, they are no longer differentiators at all; what was once a competitive advantage has become normal as progress has been made. Thus, it can be seen that there is a window of opportunity for schools to create competitive advantages and then extend these into long-term positions of differentiation and strength.
LEGO Education’s Robotics products started with the MINDSTORMS RCX system in 1998. The system was revolutionary, but it did have its difficulties. These included using infrared communication between the Intelligent Brick and the controlling computer, which could make transferring programs difficult. The second-generation of MINDSTORMS, NXT, was released in 2009 and was a major upgrade in all aspects and the system saw large uptake by schools. MINDSTORMS EV3, launched in 2013, extended this growth and has seen a large and growing uptake by schools. These include independent private schools, stock-exchange-listed school groups and government schools.
The two marketing-based images below help illustrate where South African schools are in the process of Robotics adoption. Image 1 shows the assumed (standard) adoption process of a product, which LEGO Education seems to be following. Innovators take the most risk as they purchase the products early. Early Adopters follow once the initial risks have been eliminated by product development. This can be seen by the gradient of the Growth stage in Image 2, which shows a rapid uptake of the product. Referring to the two images below, and internal sales figures, it can be seen that Robotics is in the Growth stage in South Africa, with Innovators and Early Adopters powering the market forward.
It is at this Growth stage where differentiation is most effective; Innovators have discovered any flaws in the products and these have now been eliminated through generational product development, reducing the risk for schools. By purchasing in the near term, and integrating LEGO Education Robotics into all Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics and Computing (STEM+C) areas now, schools can create a lasting competitive advantage based on Robotics. This is possible as long as it is implemented fully with both management and the responsible teacher ‘champions’, who will teach the students, buying into the idea.
The next blog entry will explain how LEGO Education can be integrated into STEM+C subjects and how this integration can create a long-term competitive advantage for schools.