The Interaction Field Opportunity in Education, Part I

woman writing in book with laptop

At Vivaldi, we see Interaction Fields changing most industries around us. This fundamentally new value creation model brings together key participants in a given industry and creates value through exchange. It replaces the old pipeline model that was focused on competitive advantage through optimizing the value chain and leveraging physical assets. It also supersedes the more recent platform business model.

Businesses like Airbnb and Uber shifted the paradigm in their respective industries from leveraging physical assets such as hotels or cars, to bringing together drivers and riders, travelers and owners, to create value through exchange. This phenomenon, which goes beyond these examples and is reshaping entire industries and creating new kinds of successful businesses, has been described by Vivaldi’s founder and CEO Erich Joachimsthaler in his book The Interaction Field.

interaction field book

This series will be of interest to any industry observer looking to pick up on emerging patterns of demand, and to the practitioner looking to spot opportunities for innovation or investment. To kick-off, Vivaldi Senior Partner Anne Olderog looks at why education is ripe for disruption by Interaction Fields.

Why Education is ripe for disruption by Interaction Fields

In Education, there has been a shift from an ‘authoritative’ top-down model to a ‘lateral’ or ‘peer-to peer’ model. We no longer think only in terms of a transfer from a “knowledgeable adult” to a “tabula rasa” learner. Students don’t simply learn to process and regurgitate information that they may or may not use later. They also  learn to develop meta skills such as formulating and defending a point of view, persuading others or appreciating perspectives from others.

The education business model has changed. Education has a high propensity to shift from a traditional (“pipeline”) one-to-many model to a many-to-many ecosystem where learning comes from everywhere and everyone. What has not yet been studied are the structural factors in education that create the conditions for disruption by an Interaction Field.

The BCG article, “Do You Need a Business Ecosystem,” examined several criteria that make an industry well-suited for an interaction field. Education industry presents a number of these:

1. Modularity

“In contrast to vertically integrated models or hierarchical supply chains, in business ecosystems, the components of the offering are designed independently yet function as an integrated whole. In many cases, the customer can choose among the components and/or how they are combined.”

Education is a prime example of an ecosystem where the key components are designed independently and yet need to function as a whole – from understanding, assessment, practice and ultimately application

In our research, a key problem from the student perspective is actually the dissociation of these key steps. Learning is often dissociated from practical application. Understanding is separate from practice. Academic concepts fail to be brought back to practical world problems.

The same is true from the instructor or institutional perspective. Teaching basic concepts is separate from assessing student understanding or even basic preparation. This is a well-known problem that is becoming particularly acute in light of today’s rising attrition rates.

2. Customization

“In contrast to an open-market model, the contributions of the ecosystem participants tend to be customized to the ecosystem and made mutually compatible”.

Education requires a highly customizable approach – not just to different technologies and platforms, but also to different pedagogical methods and philosophies. Boundaries were already being pushed by EdTech, but the pandemic opened a whole set of new doors as new approaches are explored and old ones are being reassessed.

3. Multilateralism

“In contrast to open-market models, ecosystems consist of a set of relationships that are not decomposable to an aggregation of bilateral interactions. This means that a successful contract between A and B (such as phone maker and app developer) can be undermined by the failure of the contract between A and C (phone maker and telecom provider).”

Education is a great example of multilateralism in an ecosystem. The core interaction between a learner and an instructor requires support from an institution to be successful. This requires a testing/assessment system to certify its success. Ultimately, application in the real world will measure the value of the skill acquired. Without interaction between these multiple participants, success cannot be ensured or evaluated.

4. Coordination

The last of our criteria is coordination. Education is by definition a holistic ecosystem requiring the collaboration various partners. Systematic issues faced by education cannot be resolved by any one player. Solving these requires cooperation from educational institutions, faculty, administrators, instructional designers, teaching assistants and of course students themselves. Beyond this, further coordination is needed with suppliers, software developers and regulators.

A coordinated model is required to solve problems that are so complex and profound that no one player will have the ability to find and implement a solution. Various actors must come together in order to innovate, create market power and offer a fertile ground for the spread of innovation.

Interaction Fields are best suited for industries that have high modularity (i.e. separate components that can beneficially be put together) and a high need for coordination.

The learning process is formed by a series of disparate – yet often disjointed factors – that together need to form a holistic learning ecosystem. It involves interactions between multiple participants – from administrators to parents and of course students and instructors – that together make learning possible. The combination of these factors creates both the need and the opportunity for Interaction Fields to be formed.

II. What are the types of problems that Interaction Fields in Education could solve


Many students in focus groups told us that they simply do not understand concepts the way their professor explains them. This fits with our research with instructors, who told us they consider this generation of students particularly challenging to teach. One professor described his current generation of students as “demanding and aggressive”; another talked about the need to “reinvent his game”.

All of this means that the need for better understanding runs even deeper than in previous generations. Students are likely to turn to explanations from their peers that they find more easily accessible. YouTube has become a de facto Interaction field not just in entertainment but also in education.

Engagement and focus

A recent study by Microsoft concluded that the human attention span has dropped to eight seconds – shrinking nearly 25% in just a few years. In Vivaldi’s own research, students reported time management – and beyond this, attention management – as a top pain point.

Social interactions are one of the factors that created the problem. They have the potential to create solutions. Interactions offer the possibility to reframe the old “no pain, no gain” mindset that our research found students like to challenge. Millennials and gen Z learners don’t see learning and fun as polar opposites.

The ‘Grit and Growth Mindset’ has become one of the most popular education concepts of our time. While the notion of challenge continues to be well understood and accepted, boredom is not.

According to an administrator that we interviewed from one of the largest college systems in the country, the holy grail is to make learning as engaging as social media or gaming. Interaction Fields have an opportunity to play a role here.

Real world application

The dichotomy between academic theory and real world practice is increasingly being challenged.  “Just in time” information is taking the place of “just in case”, and “once in a lifetime “ learning is being replaced with lifelong learning.

Interaction fields offer the opportunity to open up the learning process to many more than those who make education their profession. This includes real world experts and companies on the hunt for talent. Boundaries between academia and business or practical life could become more porous. Interaction Fields could create spaces for learning by doing, mentoring students while working, and always learning as one’s career grows.


In Part II, Anne will share types of emerging Interaction Field models and what to expect going forward in Education.