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Disruptive Innovation

Disrupting Class - Customizing Learning - Creating Change

Disrupting Class BookFor a revolution to take place in education, changes will have to occur that will disrupt the status quo. According to Clayton Christensen, Michael Horn and Curtis Johnson writers of Disrupting Class: How Disruptive Innovation Will Change the Way the World Learns, the key to revolutionizing the classroom is not just by adding technology, but rather by the ways that technology will be introduced. They believe that future schools must be student centric. Because students have different types of intelligences, they do not all learn the same way.

To serve all students effectively, learning should be both personalized and customized. Under the current system, customizing education is expensive. Disrupting Class recommends introducing more computer based learning disruptively. "We need to introduce the innovation disruptively--not by using it to compete against the existing paradigm and serve existing customers, but to target those who are not being served -- people we call non-consumers. That way, all the new approach has to do is be better than the alternative -- which is nothing at all. " (Christensen, Horn, Edutopia 2008)

A disruptive innovation usually is simpler and less expensive, does not sustain the current model, and benefits those who are not using the current model. In the beginning the disruptive innovation is not as good as the existing service or product. Over time though, the disruptive innovation improves and can overtake the old way of doing things. One example of a disruptive innovation in education that Christensen, Horn and Johnson note is online learning.

Already in higher education online learning is beginning to disrupt the old ways of doing things. Online education is not bound by location or the same time constraints; thus previously unserved individuals have taken advantage of educational experiences. Institutions have acquired new students and saved money by serving courses virtually rather than in classrooms. As technology and courses have improved, more students have begun to take online courses along side regular face to face classes. Some online classes even allow students to experience similar interactive class activities, and sometimes previously impossible activities.

In Disrupting Class (p105) the authors talk about Brigham Young's award winning Virtual ChemLab that serves over 15,000 students. The online course's virtual lab allows students to conduct experiments in a no consequence situation with no cost for chemicals and perhaps more experimental alternatives. For some cash strapped schools, these virtual simulations could provide cost savings.

According to Eric Waters in Disruptive Innovation Theory and Public School Education: A Futurist Perspective, asynchronous curriculum delivery can be used to enhance advanced placement students doing independent study, and in credit recovery programs. Credit recovery programs support at risk students who may have left school because of poor performance or unstable life experience. Rather than dropping out these students can take online courses as an alternative.

In the video below listen to Clay Christensen talk about customization of learning and disruptive innovation in education.

In an Institute for the Future report called The Future of Leaning Agents and Disruptive Innovation, Andrea Saveri and Matt Chwienut talk about disruptive innovation areas in education. Below are several of their key ideas:

  1. Open Education
    The first, open education, talks about how open source and open access resources provide an opportunity for the sharing and developing of diverse content that can address different needs of educators and learners. These resources at lower costs are often flexible and customizable and can be easily shared in networked communities. Teachers and learners can use social networks to find resources and also to post developed resources. In turn these networks become part of the users personal learning network and encourage community and life-long learning. Open educational resources have the potential to disrupt a dependence on expensive traditional educational tools and resources.

  2. Flexible Public Narratives
    With new networked communities, stories about education will increase. The authors see this as opening up organic discussions about the role of education. They believe that a a narrative crafted for and by educators and learners is necessary. In 2010 ,the narrative has been filtered by achievement and standardization while it should be focusing on getting and training and maintaining top notch teachers to ensure every child has the individualized learning opportunities. A public narrative could enable a focus on a commons of shared resources and collective management.

  3. Institutions moving to Exstitutions-An Ecosystem of Teaching and Learning.
    "As the public school systems face increasing criticism, political pressure, and financial strain, 'education' is exiting the public school. As it exits the classroom, the playing field, the textbook, the curriculum, the schedule and the reigning pedagogical practices, it embeds itself across a broad range of learning platforms..What emerges is an ecosystem of education exstitutions-systems that don't draw resources into them, but rather distribute and link them to facilitate learning." ( Saveri, 18) Schools will become nodes in a distributed learning economy. Rather than the old hierarchical model of education, learners will move through diverse networks and create a personal learning ecology. The diverse networks include learning beyond just schools. According to the authors, early signs of this diversified ecosystem are that schools are becoming the filter for identifying resources, courses and venues for students and families and schools are integrating the academic day and after school activities. With creative teachers and flexible activity based curriculum the community is becoming a distributed classroom.

  4. An Emerging Sociogogy: Practices for a Social Learning Platform
    The internet, mobile devices and participatory culture is disrupting the traditional teacher-learner relationship.The relationship of teachers and learners is moving towards more of a partnership. According to the authors the shift is from pedagogy to sociogogy where teachers are teachers and learners lead one another. This means an emphasis on guiding discovery, and creation.

  5. The Rise of Transliteracy
    According to Sue Thomas of DeMontfort University, transliteracy is the ability to, "read write and interact across a range of platforms, tools and media from signing and orality through handwriting, print, TV, radio, and film to digital social networks." (Saveri, p.23) The rapid change and evolution in technology means that transliteracy becomes more and more important. Learners will need to learn to write not just to be read but to be heard; they must understand and respect the dynamics of ownership in a world of remix and shared resources.Traditional models of education have been text-based. The future will include more multi-modal resources.

    For more information on Saveri and Chwienut's report see The Future of Learning Agents and Disruptive Innovation- Institute for the Future by Andrea Saveri and Matt Chwierut

"Where online learning was once a "distance" innovation, it's coming on strong in bricks-and-mortar K-12 schools. That's a significant shift that we'll start to see this year, and that will continue to accelerate in the future. The biggest growth will take place in the hybrid, face-to-face "bricks and clicks" learning environments (where students take some courses in traditional classrooms and some online). As more schools embrace and encourage such innovations, the disruption that occurs will change the way the world learns. " Michael Horn (Interview with McCrea, Disruptive Innovation in the Classroom, 2010)

If we accept the proposition in Disrupting Class, the best way to create the needed revolution in education is through working outside of the current system. The movement could come from servicing some previously unserved markets with less than perfect products that can improve overtime. Certainly the example of online learning seems to fit that description, and we can see its effect taking place.

The rise of social networking and sharing sites has led to a new generation of students who live an open source ethos. The disruption has already taken place in the world of our learners. Web 2.0 tools that offer applications free, based on freemium models where only the premium users pay for service, the availability of information anywhere and anytime, and collaborative knowledge building sites like wikipedia all undermine old paid systems. As traditional media like newspapers and television are under threat from new and freely available digital media, so too is traditional education.

EduCitizenship 2020 believes that the new open and free applications, tools and content will disrupt education. Already textbook publishers are scrambling to offer digital content to replace hard cover textbooks. As mentioned on our page Who is the Learner?, students today are demanding a movement towards free and open materials. In our section Open Access Education and Resources we detail some of the open initiatives. The global availability of online learning means that all educational organizations will have increased competition.

To survive in 2020, educational institutions and educators will need to be open to the change. To do this they must position themselves as the experts in a network of learning. Becoming the leading node and not just be another option will be key. To attain the position of leading node, education will need to build the respect of its partners. Strong connections and partnerships with learners, families, community, business and government can be built by offering space, service and shared resources. By respecting the input from all and by working together as Educitizens, a new ecosystem can be built.

Next up, see Trends in Education