A recent list of the World's Top Tools for Learning is a stark reminder of how rapidly the educational ecosystem has moved beyond the traditional classroom. Most young professionals seem to have readily embraced the ability to learn quickly and interactively, formally and informally, in a real-time environment that was utterly unimaginable only a decade ago.
Many leading online educational tools are built around rapidly augmenting micro-level communications to a global-wired audience. Four key tools from the top of the list include: Wikipedia – the largest knowledge sharing encyclopaedia ever created; Twitter – the turbo-charged, real-time communication network; YouTube – the world’s largest video library; Slideshare – the emergent PowerPoint sharing powerhouse. The principles underpinning crowdsourcing resonate in a similar way – democratising discrete, micro projects by reaching a global, collaborative community (e.g. 99Designs, Innocentice, Amazon Mechanical Turk)
But missing from the top 100 educational tools list was one conspicuous absentee – Microsoft Excel. With over 500 million active users and arguably the “numbers backbone” of millions of global businesses, students and social community networks – assuredly it deserves recognition amongst the world’s most powerful, dependable and far-reaching educational tools?
While Excel may not function as an educational tool in the same way that YouTube can teach us about a new scientific methodology or process that we are unfamiliar with, it’s unique educational power is in its ability to take real world data and allow us to educate ourselves by better understanding the situation or issues in question.
Microsoft Excel at its core is an easy-to-use spread sheet software tool that helps analyse, visualise and connect numbers in highly functional, sophisticated and versatile manner. With minimal direct marketing and fanfare (outside the Microsoft suite), Excel has become so dominant and default-like in the “numbers market” since the early 1990s that it has very few genuine competitors. Moreover, in areas where Microsoft Excel may have some arguable shortcomings, it has been surrounded by a multitude of complimentary third-party situation-specific software applications and plugins that further enrich the numbers ecology.
Unlike many peers on the list, Microsoft Excel has implicitly already been adorned one of the world’s most trusted and valuable educational tools. The program is so deeply entrenched in the daily lives of people and organisations that life without it would be untenable and dysfunctional for many. So rooted in our knowledge of numbers, Microsoft Excel is mandatory in the curriculum of most high schools around the world – at about the time they learn about pythagorian triangles and MacBeth. Excel has systematically improved the way we learn, think, interact and transact. And as a commitment to continuous improvement, it continues to adapt and periodically release updated versions.
Some explicit illustrations of the breadth and utility of Microsoft’s Excel’s educational impact may be needed. Examples include:
- Businesses entering Chapter 7 restructuring processes – one of the first tasks of a quality turnaround practitioner will be to prepare a relevant and realistic cash flow model;
- Upon the sale, listing or purchase of any of the world’s public or private businesses – an Excel model will be intrinsically form part of valuation, deal negotiation and valuation parameters on both sides of a transaction. Especially important will be assumptions, variables and inter-relationships (i.e. working capital, Capex, forecasts);
- Strategies to enter new markets – an Excel model will almost assuredly be close to hand;
- Financing and structuring the world infrastructure projects, both large and small;
- Stock valuations and quantitative analysis – would be pretty challenging with an abacus?
- Use in understanding the tax implications of different options, decisions or transactions; and
- Many pre-nupitals even manage their wedding suppliers list in a Gantt chart!
Although the adage comes to mind, “we don’t know what we’ve got until it’s gone” – maybe all is not lost just yet. Inspired with a touch of Schumpeterian zeal, the Four Cs – Community, Co-creation, Customisation and Conversation – will likely be cornerstones to creating and redefining Microsoft Excel in Web 2.0. Key to the education epiphany will be some of the following questions:
- Can we learn how to collaboratively share knowledge and resources in Microsoft Excel?
- Can we find ways to learn from one and other in the way we use tools such as Excel to better understand the world around us?
- Will new businesses models emerge to improve quality and continuous improvement of Excel use?
- Could social media be the catalyst for co-creation and facilitating real-time conversations between clients, business and resources?
- What change management techniques can help transitions and leverage new business intelligence tools?
- Will technological penetration help drive educational improvements in emerging markets?
In summary, Microsoft Excel is a clear omission from an otherwise excellent list of educational tools. Metaphorically, I overhear personal trainers at the gym regularly preach to their clients: focus less on the aesthetic “beach benefits” of lifting upper body weights, focus more on building strong legs and core strength as a foundation for living.
Just maybe parallels can be drawn to Microsoft Excel and how numbers make the world go round?