I just read that a $100 million Venture fund has been established to invest exclusively in innovation for education (see TechCrunch article).
The thesis is that education, particularly higher education, is in a bubble. The fact is that millions of kids are entering the system that isn't built to handle the diversity among learning styles and needs. Furthermore, investment in crucial initiatives like STEM and general technology tools are at a standstill. If you dig deeper in this issue, it is clear many institutions are simply afraid of making the "change" into the new dynamic of learning. This fear creates the action of inaction, resulting in missed opportunity and eventual complacency.
For professional pilot education, these issues are no different. The industry continues to look for the balance between the proven craft of stick and rudder flying with the airline-demanded tech-savvy pilots. In no way can the basic tenants of aviating be compromised, but they certainly can be built upon. So the question becomes where can innovation and education co-exist.
Student Recruitment: This is the first area I would invest time and capital. For aviation programs, it is crucial that they take the initiative upon themselves to find the right students. Good marketing and message communication is an investment, not a cost item on your P&L. Have a dedicated staff (or student) create compelling content that highlights your program and expertise. Use some of the social tools out there to see what kids are interested in (www.socialmention.com). Meet them half way with engaging dialouge representing not only your institution, but the industry in general. The result will be clear increases in conversion rates at a much lower cost than traditional methods.
Operational Techniques: This is an area ripe for collaberation and innovation. First, get outside of aviation. See what other logistics and manufacturing companies have done to improive their throughput, delivery process and "defect' rates. Discuss and debate the synergies and convert some of the learnings into actionable ideas for your team. If possible, encourage operational managers to experiement without the fear of failure. In the end, the institution will be run more efficiently, have a more motivated workforce/student body and attract more talent!
There are multiple areas of flight training that can be innovated without sacrificing the core commandments of aviation education. It will take a willingness to change, ability to look at the same problem differently and potentially asking for help.