Could Apple’s Organizational Model Work In The Classroom?

A recent article on MacRumors got me thinking. Steve Jobs set up Apple to give some of the most creative people the most freedom. People like Jony Ive, the man behind basically all the design that’s made Apple so popular, has almost total freedom. According to the Associated Press leak of Walter Isaacson’s upcoming book about Jobs, the Apple CEO intentionally gave Ive unlimited freedom to pursue what he wanted:

He called Jonathan Ive, Apple’s design chief, his “spiritual partner” at Apple. He told Isaacson that Ive had “more operation power” at Apple than anyone besides Jobs himself — that there’s no one at the company who can tell Ive what to do. That, says Jobs, is “the way I set it up.”

Ive’s team is said to operate out of a secretive high-tech lab on Apple‘s campus where he is given ultimate flexibility in his work, a standing earned through his team’s creation of numerous iconic products and a plethora of design awards. And while Ive’s design work ultimately must mesh with the hardware requirements coming out of Apple’s engineering groups under Bob Mansfield, it’s clear from Jobs’ comments that Ive is free to pursue his own design solutions for Apple products. That freedom ultimately helps to guard against a watering-down effect that could occur if his designs were subject to the approval of and revision by others in the company.

In The Classroom

So what if teachers were to give certain students, or all students for that matter, complete freedom with minimal oversight? It’s obviously worked wonders for Apple. That is likely because the people being given the ultimate freedom are mature, experts in their field, and capable of being independent.

While I understand not every student could be left to his or her own devices, the idea that allowing students to have more creative freedom should ideally help encourage and nurture new ideas and solutions to difficult problems.

As an elementary school student, I was lucky enough to be placed into a gifted program that brought me to a different school 2 days a week. Once there, my fellow students and I would be handed difficult and challenging puzzles and projects and be told to come up with an answer. From designing products with LEGOs to creating science projects out of household items, it was a truly inspiring time. After reading this article on the freedom afforded to Jony Ive, it made me remember how lucky I was and wanted to see what others thought about granting freedom to students.

Should Students Choose Their Own Assignments?

So what exactly would happen if, for one entire school year, students were allowed to pick their own assignments? What if they were given broad goals with no real step-by-step instruction or textbooks?

It’s always been my idea that the best teachers are the ones who know when to let students run free and learn to solve problem their own way. That’s what Apple has done with Ive and other top executives (the rest of the company is still a pretty standard structure to my knowledge). This executive organization, however, runs contrary to how most corporations operate and it’s obviously paid off for Apple.

Is Your Classroom Organized Like Apple?

So I’m genuinely curious: is your classroom more like Apple or is it closer to a standard corporate (vertical integration) layout? Somewhere in between?

Weigh in down in the comments, by mentioning @edudemic on Twitter or by posting your thoughts on the Eduemic Facebook page. I look forward to hearing what you have to say!


  1. Kidipede

    October 21, 2011 at 3:00 pm

    I went to a free school for elementary school, and we designed our own projects and then carried them out, alone or in groups, as we chose. Only if you seemed bored, or were causing trouble (eg destroying supplies or endangering yourself or others) did an adult come by to offer guidance, and then mainly just to get you started. If you wanted advice, you could go ask for it. It was the best environment anybody could hope for.

    Lest you think that kids in this situation would just spend all their time drawing pictures or throwing paper airplanes, among the things we did were to read all the books in the school library, going in order around the shelves, and to spend weeks in a competition as to who could do more math worksheets every day. But we also organized magazines, built go-carts, started a radio station, put on plays, made plaster models of our ideal worlds and wrote stories set in them, and started book groups. I also remember a headstand contest… As a group, we also had the highest test scores in the district, and the most improvement between 3rd and 6th grades.

    Mainly what this depended on was having enough adults around to provide support. There were parent volunteers, student teachers, etc. And the specialists – speech, library, gym, etc – also circulated around the school.

  2. TristramShepard

    October 21, 2011 at 6:12 pm

    Back in the 1980s I used to run a department of art, design and technology in a secondary school. At the age of 15 students were expected to identify and run with their own projects, which they always did with great success. However they had been gradually prepared for this over the previous 4 years, so it’s not just a matter of suddenly giving students a completely free choice. Also they need good guidance from experienced teachers who do not tell them what to do but just asks them the right questions. What really makes it work is the sense of ownership – it becomes their project, not the teachers.

    • edudemic

      October 22, 2011 at 11:03 am

      great point. The issue of ownership is critical and I completely agree. It’s all about getting to take pride in your work, ideas, etc.