This week, a look at a phenomenon amplified by our own digital lives today: the so-called “Long Tail.”

The Basic Idea

You can find examples of the Long Tail in a variety of areas, but the focus in Chris Anderson’s book looked at Internet business and how the economics of variety can pay off for businesses today. Here’s a look at the tail:

The tail represents the majority of what we’re talking about (let’s say we’re talking about books), along a scale that’s looking at the variety of, in this case, books.

This 20/80 split separates the most popular books in the head (in the 20% region) with the less popular, but far more diverse tail. The red region represents the books that are available at Barnes & Noble. But the orange-yellow section represents what’s available at or B&N online in addition to the most popular titles found in the bricks and mortar store.

Long Tail in Our Schools

Being an educator, I began to think of this model for a lot of what we do and see in our schools. The head represents the classes we offer at GHS. The tail represents all the diverse interests of students and teachers that could be courses, if we had the resources.

The head represents the percentage of kids who “got” a concept with our presentation in class today. The tail represents the kids that didn’t get the concepts, based on a variety of reasons.

The head represents the first page of Google search results; the tail represents the other million or so results that we never have time to check-out.

The head represents the percentage of kids who find the content we’re covering intrinsically interesting. The tail represents their intrinsic interests, spread across a wide variety of concepts, issues, and experiences.

Implications for Education

The Long Tail “phenomenon” has been measured and constructed from real data in various studies on a variety of topics, and it doesn’t necessarily pan out exactly in the ways I’ve described above.

Yet, I bet a number of you shook your head in agreement when you considered the connections I drew. It’s easy to aim for the head of the tail. This is Wal-Mart’s approach with DVDs. They don’t offer a huge variety, but they offer all the hits. The idea is, they’ll sell a lot of the popular titles. But what they miss, because of necessity, is the fortune to be made in the Long Tail. 20-50% of a company’s revenue can be earned from the Long Tail titles that aren’t even available in your local Wal-Mart.

Technology is driving the Long Tail phenomenon in business. Can it drive it in the classroom? One way to look at the LT is in terms of choice. Looking at a lesson you may have planned as a LT, the standards might represent the head. But we might pique student interest by expanding on the lesson with topics of their own interest, as diverse as they may be.

Teaching a lesson based on the LT as your model lends itself to a project-based approach. Technology can facilitate differentiated instruction in one way by asking different student groups to report on different outgrowths of study, whether it be hands-on activities or some sort of research.

Learning More...

Maybe you think looking at the Long Tail is a stretch for education. There’s certainly more to learn. If you’d like to see how the LT affects the music and movie industry, take a look here. Or perhaps you’d like to hear from the book’s author, Chris Anderson, in his interview with talk show host, Charlie Rose. Maybe you’d like to study the LT with your students in math, business, or science class.

Let me know in your blog or through e-mail if you encounter LT phenomena in your life or in your classroom. I’d be interested in hearing about it. Author/speaker David Warlick thinks the LT is important in education because managing information in that “long, endless tail” is becoming increasingly complex.

In the future I hope to share more on how to manage it both personally and also for students. Have a great weekend! On Monday, we have a class meeting on iWeb. We’re changing the location to GHS. Hope to see you there.

Thanks for reading!


The Long Tail

Reminder for First-Year Teachers

If you took our Ethics of Cyberspace & Internet Safety class this year, you need to turn-in an internet safety lesson plan to John. If you took the online version, submit the lesson plan through Moodle. Face-to-face? E-mail the plan to John after it has been taught. Be sure the lesson plan includes a reflection on your teaching.

Still need the course? Join today to participate in our March 08 version online.

Backup Friday!

Talk about forgetting! It’s Friday. And when did you do your last backup?

It’s important to back-up your files on a weekly basis. Check out our guide online if you forget the process of using SilverKeeper!