Cosmetology School As a Model for Vocational Education

Looking for successful vocational education? Edtech solutions that work in the real world? Look at cosmetology school.

Beauty education done right can be a model for elevating vocational education overall, and in doing so possibly provide some insights for higher education as well. The most obvious lesson any college graduate entering the workforce could learn from a successful hairstylist is how to evaluate and meet a client’s needs.

In fact, cosmetology school offers a perfect model for introducing effective new edtech. Why? Four reasons:

1. Short. Cosmetology—the study of hairstyling—is essentially one subject, typically taught in one year.
2. Focused on service. In addition to mastering the intricate details of cutting and coloring hair, a successful stylist must also be a master at customer service, personal branding, and business building.
3. Hands-on. Most cosmetology students are creative doers and problem solvers who excel at hands-on activities rather than traditional learning environments with textbooks and lectures.
4. Requires licensing. Cosmetology school is highly regulated at the federal and state level. Cosmetology, like so many other vocational careers, requires a license to practice.

Beauty education offers the perfect model for vocational education. It offers an ideal context for introducing a new way of learning and testing the efficacy of that learning against an established, regulated set of standards.

Transforming vocational education

As the future of our economy increasingly depends on a thriving service sector, effective vocational training is essential to prepare a growing segment of our population for success. Vocational jobs aren’t going away because, no matter what global economic forces are at play, people expect great customer service across a broad range of industries. Yet employers struggle to fill their open positions with well-trained new hires, and the cost of turnover is high.

One real-world example

Here’s one real-world example of successful vocational education—in the beauty industry. Turn your clock back to 2014. That’s when a whole new way to learn cosmetology launched at over 75 vocational schools across the U.S. It was an entirely new beauty education curriculum created by cosmetology educators, learning science experts, instructional designers, and curriculum writers—and designed to help students not only pass state board, but succeed in the salon. It was the Filmbook® program (branded at the time, as Studio Luma).

The first graduates of those cosmetology schools began entering the workforce in the summer of 2015. Hiring managers across the country immediately noticed that there was something different about these new stylists.

  • “This Filmbook program is dramatically different. It allows students to graduate knowing that whatever happens they have the confidence and skill to succeed.”
    Salon Manager, Florida
  • “These graduates are people I want in my salon. They’re very professional and confident. Their integrity is strong. You can tell they’re ready to succeed.”
    Salon Owner, Arizona
  • “I’m finding that the students have great technical skills. Plus, they come in with a strong knowledge and understanding of how we do things in the salon.”
    Salon Manager, Texas
  • “These students see professionalism modeled at its best as part of the program. Coming from any other school, students don’t see that until they do a job shadow. We can teach just about anyone how to cut hair, but people skills are what stylists need.”
    —Salon Hiring Manager, Minnesota
  • “I applaud Filmbook because it promotes consistency. We do the same thing at the salon. Recruiting from schools that promote consistency and integrity makes our job easier. It’s a dream you have there. Plus, it’s cool.”
    —Salon Creative and Style Director, Illinois
  • “The success of this program — this is going to create a mighty change. Students learning all those professional skills in school is good news for us, as salon owners.”
    —Salon Owner, Tennessee
  • “I think this is a phenomenal program. It’s the future of cosmetology. This is an industry that always changes — is always changing. The way we teach must, too.”
    —Salon Owner, Florida
Transforming vocational education? Look to cosmetology school and the Filmbook Cosmetology app, shown here on an iPhone
Transforming vocational education? Look to cosmetology school. It offers an ideal context for teaching customer retention.

Filmbook: A way to learn any performance-based activity

The Filmbook team considered cosmetology to be the first of a broad range of performance-based education that could be transformed.

Today, Filmbook offers a proven methodology for performance-based educational content creation, based on four principles:

  • Film. Videos of professionals in realistic settings are inherently more effective than long passages in a textbook.
  • Sequential images. Plentiful images in the right order aid comprehension and provide additional context and instruction.
  • Text. Explanations and instructions should be freed from the constraints of a typical hierarchical content management structure and allowed to be codified and synchronized directly to the images and films of the real-world activity.
  • Questions. Asking students to answer a key question as a film progresses helps drive engagement and deepen learning.

In the Filmbook State Board app and the Filmbook Cosmetology app these are integrated, not separate, components.

In a typical Learning Management System (LMS) there is a disconnected PDF of text connected to a teaching film. But with the Filmbook State Board app, students get detailed, step-by-step procedures (or underlying theory) right there as they watch film. There’s no clunky, inconvenient navigation to a separate PDF.

And, in a typical LMS, quiz questions appear at the end of the film. But in the Filmbook State Board app, questions appear throughout the film. When they’re needed. And where they’re relevant. These questions drive engagement and deepen learning by highlighting key moments in the film.


The Filmbook team started with beauty education because it was such a perfect model. But any filmed performance in vocational education could become the basis for a Filmbook class.

—Neal Tillotson, Filmbook CEO


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