Monday, January 15, 2007

Ski Lessons and Data Analysis

My friend's daughter Lily took her first ski lesson on Saturday at Copper Mountain. She is five years old and could not have been more thrilled to be on skis for the first time. As we watched her ascend the magic carpet from afar we could see her going through the motions of stops and turns. They looked a bit like dance moves to me, but this simple motion indicated to me that she was having a blast and learning a lot. At the end of the lesson the parents are given a report card and the instructor gives a short update (maybe a minute). I haven't pursued exactly what was on the report card, but the instructor said she needed one more lesson before getting on a lift. I guess she needed to improve her turning ability.

I have been thinking of the role of data in the ski lesson industry. I wonder if instructors are creating data or looking at data before starting a lesson. Would it benefit an instructor to know before they start that a child that is entering their class took a lesson one month ago and never mastered turns? Would it benefit an instructor to know more about that child's turning ability, like whether the child is crossing skis, catching an edge, or just not attempting turns yet? Would it benefit the instructor to know if the child has taken the Highpoint lift twice this month (and presumably skied down)? I am unfamiliar with the business of winter resorts and particularly unfamiliar with the practice of teaching children and adults lessons (I am a below average snowboarder that hasn't taken a lesson in years), but I am curious about their use of data. I am also curious about the relationship between a high quality learning experience and the likelihood of returning to the resort (not sure if the instructors collect student satisfaction data).

Copper Mountain should be collecting and using two types of data. First, they should collect and distribute high-quality learner data to their instructors prior to every lesson. These data would include previous lesson report cards, information regarding the number of visits to Copper and lifts used (this is clearly available in their system). Second, they should analyze the relationship between student learning and visit behavior. In other words, what is the relationship between visits to the mountain and the experience in the lesson. They should be interested in both how much the student learned and how satisfied the customer reported to be.

In the K-12 education arena we expect teachers to respond appropriately to variance in their classroom with a differentiated approach. We do not want teachers to march through a lesson as if completing the material in a timely manner was the most important goal of the class period. We understand that the most important aspect of the class is that students master the expectations and those students that achieve mastery quickly are given ample opportunity to take on new challenges. Teaching is not the most important aspect of a lesson, but instead learning is the key.

Just like in the world of K-12 education, an instructor becomes empowered when they have access to data. We know Copper Mountain collects customer data, but do they collect and use data on teaching and learning? In a business as competitive as the ski industry if Copper Mountain were to become known as the top instructor team in America it could truly set them apart from all the other choices we have in Colorado. This would be a sophisticated way to jump the curve and take and existing product and make it better.

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