Take students to the darkside

We must take students to the darkside to help make learning meaningful & relevant
Take students to the darkside to make learning meaningful & relevant

Pink Floyd’s chart breaking 1973 album ‘Dark Side of the Moon’ brought a legendary band together in a highly creative and entrepreneurial manner.

The music was rich and expressive and importantly tangential to the popular but increasingly bland ‘Glam rock‘. Charting for over 740 weeks, ‘Dark Side of the Moon’ opened the door to world fame and fortune for 4 young men…

Reading about the creation of the album, it is clear the group knew what they wanted to do and were very entrepreneurial and motivated in the way they saw their music progressing. Doubtless there were other bands like them, but Pink Floyd applied their talents to the full.

Fast-forward 38 years – Portland, Oregon

In October 2011 I was asked to deliver a presentation in the States about SimVenture and its application as a learning and teaching resource. Keen to use an original angle and make the points as clear as possible, I settled on using Pink Floyd’s 1973 album title as the headline for the talk. Stay with me here, there is some logic…

Research leading to the development of SimVenture showed that teachers had few resources to use to help bring the subjects of business and entrepreneurship to life. Existing resources didn’t fully engage students and typically only helped people to learn about what happens before starting in business.

When planning for Portland, I reasoned that issues like business planning, idea generation and business theory had value, but all related lessons only ever keep the student on the ‘light side’. By contrast, using an authentic simulation, students were able to venture to the ‘dark side’ and gain meaning from the application of theory. Critically, this journey also allows them to return to the light side and ask better questions and make more informed decisions.

Diving and Dancing

To emphasise the importance of the ‘Dark Side’ point in the presentation, I asked the audience to consider teaching subjects like high diving and dancing without involving students in practice and practical work.

“How many students would turn up for a dance class that involved no dancing and how many people could dive off a 10 metre board without first having practiced repeatedly and failed at much lower levels?” I posed the question. The audience laughed.

Hitchhiking is the same. To truly learn and understand what it is like to be a hitchhiker, you have to hitch.

Westminster Presentation

In January 2012, the key elements of the Portland presentation were also used at Westminster as part of a talk entitled ‘Driving the Economy Forward’. The message was largely the same but this time the audience was set to involve over 10 influential politicians whose on-line ‘CV’ noted their interest (sometimes passionate) in entrepreneurship and youth employment.

But whilst invitations had been accepted by these politicians (who represented all sides of the house), the debate clashed with a ‘far more important’ event involving pubs and the issue of pub closures; as such, the politicians who said they could attend all voted for booze rather than education. It was disappointing and perhaps unsurprising. Overall, it reinforced my slightly jaundiced view of those who seek Parliamentary membership.

Since the presentation in 2012, Education Secretary Michael Gove has gone on to further reinforce the current system, seemingly with the traditions of his own experience of school. Facts, knowledge and a curriculum concentrating on a minority of core subjects now dominate. Opportunities to allow students to explore ideas, discover their talents and learn appropriately about the subjects of entrepreneurship and enterprise (in an experiential manner) have greatly receded.

Whilst  Lord Young’s latest report (June 2014) makes a valiant effort to pave the way for a reintroduction of enterprise and entrepreneurial activities throughout the school, college and university years, I regret to say that I don’t foresee any earth shattering changes; the forces of resistance are simply too strong.

For change to happen, there needs to be a fundamental political rethink, shuffle of cabinet membership and/or changing of the guard at Number 10. We need some ‘Pink Floyd’ in education and politics. We need something tangential to the bland process driven education beliefs that are harming our future prosperity as a nation.


Key Learning Points: Passion and preparedness to go against mainstream thinking can yield huge dividends. Practice and practical experience makes theory and conceptual thinking much more meaningful. To achieve this we must take students to the darkside.


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