Michael Snell . . . . asked this question of Chuck Schwahn

“Whey do we call it “Mass Customized Learning;” why can’t we just call it

“Customized Learning?”

The long answer! Probably more than you wanted to know.


I enjoy reading about leadership, change, innovation, and the future. Somewhere

about 10 years ago, (2006 or so) a new term, a new label, began appearing in the

books and Internet articles I was reading. “Mass Customizing” was replacing “Mass

Production.” Examples of Mass Customizing at that time included well-known

companies, companies with which I was familiar and companies I was actually


 Apple . . . mass customizing music through iTunes

 Starbucks . . . mass customizing the coffee experience

 Wal-mart . . . mass customizing everything . . . “if you can’t get it at Wal-Mart,

God didn’t want you to have it”

 Amazon . . . mass customizing books, reading, and online shopping

 Pandora . . . mass customizing music and radio stations

 And my favorite, Trader Joe’s . . . mass customizing cheap red wine

The MCL Vision started right here. I began by asking myself the three following


1. Who is customizing the products and services that I purchase and use?

2. How do they do that? Not the specific technology used, but in general, how

does Apple pull off getting that new song that I just heard in 60 seconds.

3. This is the big one . . . what implications might this Mass Customizing

capacity have for schools, for learners?

These three questions gave birth to the MCL vision.

This might be a good time to define Mass Customization.

First, the business definition:

“Mass Customizing is meeting the individual, personal needs of every

client/customer, while simultaneously meeting the individual, personal needs of

every other client/customer.”

The education definition of Mass Customizing:

MCL is happening when

we are meeting the learning needs of every learner

every hour of every day . . .

. . . while simultaneously

meeting the learning needs of every other learner

every hour of every day.

The Book, Titles Are Important:

When people saw our book in a bookstore or on Amazon, we didn’t want them to

think, “Oh, isn’t that nice.” We wanted them to think, “What in the hell is this!!.”

When Bea McGarvey and I decided to write the book (Inevitable: MCL), I can’t recall

if we had given it a title or if the title came after we got into the outlining and

writing. We identified 10 or 12 friends and colleagues to provide feedback to our

writing, chapter by chapter. Sometime during the writing process we asked our

feedbackers (is that a word) to react to the Inevitable: Mass Customizing Title. The

title was controversial with our feedbackers . . . some thought that the title was too

“business like,” and they suggested something like “Personalizing Learning,”

“Individualizing Learning,” etc.

But our purpose for the book was not to join the good people who were working to

make the industrial, assembly line structure of schools more effective. We went

after the structure of schools itself. Everyone else was mass customizing and

nowhere was mass customizing more needed, necessary, required than in schools

where each learner has unique learning needs.

A side note: It is interesting that we have to define “school structure” for educators .

. . and for that matter, for everyone. We have done the bureaucratic, industrial age,

assembly line so long (120 years) that it has become transparent, expected, a

“given.” The Point: we can never maximize learning opportunities for learners

within the present industrial age structure. Just yesterday I read a quote that went

something like this, “We didn’t create the electric light by continuously improving

candle making.” Ouch!

The Answer to the Question:

So Michael, we think that it’s OK to simplify the MCL label and call what we are doing

Mass Customizing . . . . so long as we understand that the term/label is not just about

learners and learning, it is about the very school structure that allows us to meet

the learning needs of every learner every hour of every day.

Steve Jobs didn’t put Block Buster out of business . . . mass customizing did

Amazon didn’t put Borders out of business . . . mass customizing did

Today’s news note (1/5/17) that Macy’s and Sears are each closing 100 or so stores

isn’t because people stopped buying clothes . . . blame it on the online structural

change brought on by technology that created the new retailing norm.

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