Is there anything truly disruptive in education? To a teacher, "disruptive" has the negative sound of that kid in the back row who is ruining your class. Disruptive technologies are innovations that upset the existing order of things, often in a good way.
It's an idea that comes from the business section of the bookshelves. Typical scenario: a lower-end innovation catches the fancy of the public, for example, Internet video like YouTube. It might suit the needs of people who are not being served by current products - like young people with commercial television. It it succeeds over a long enough period, the capacity/performance of the innovation begins to displace the established product. People stop watching traditional TV.
The real problem for the incumbent technology (often a big company - a Microsoft, a Blackboard) is that they often donâ€™t react to these disruptive innovations until itâ€™s too late. Why would they do that? Part of it is that they view this new market as rather uninteresting because it is low end, low cost and perhaps low profit.
Sometimes the disruptor isn't a small company. Look at the idea that Google is disrupting the office-productivity application software business of something like the Microsoft Office package by making its applications free and available on the Net cloud.
Is there a disruptive technology in education?Â Educators might nominate cloud computing or collaborative tools.
What got me thinking about this line of questioning was a book I was reading while having a coffee at my local Barnes & Noble. (SIDENOTE: Has anyone else noticed how B&N stores with a cafe are turning into libraries? There are people there with a stack of the store's books, their notebook, a laptop and they are working. Is this a good business model for a bookstore?)
When I look at a technology like cloud computing and a service like Google Apps, I conclude that people are not using Apps because it is better than Microsoft Office. They aren't better. They use them because - Is it because they are free? Maybe. I use Apps, but I already have Office for free from my employer.
Christensen coined the term "disruptive technology" in a 1995 article which he coauthored with Joseph Bower and his book is aimed at managers rather than educators. When he wrote a sequel, The Innovator's Solution, he replaced "disruptive technology" with the term "disruptive innovation" because he says few technologies are intrinsically disruptive or sustaining in character.
Christensen might say that some people use Google Apps because of "low-end disruption." The service works for users who do not need the full performance valued by customers at the high-end of the market.
YouTube might be considered a "new-market disruption" because its target audience (though I'm not sure some of these technologies actually knew who their target audience was when they started) are people who felt their needs weren't being served by the existing technology. The Linux operating system (OS) when it was first introduced wasn't "better" than existing systems (like UNIX and Windows NT) but it was cheap and pretty good. Today, after many improvements, Linux might actually end up displacing the commercial UNIX distributions. Is Microsoft afraid? Even if they are not, they better be paying attention.
In education, I can't say that I see one "killer app" that is so widely used that it has dethroned a king or queen. Yes, 16mm projectors were pushed into AVA closets by the VHS players and then by the DVD players. Has streaming video pushed out the DVD? Is that a disruptive innovation or is it just video in new delivery systems?
I'm not alone in thinking about disruption in educational terms. There's actually a paper by Christensen, Aaron, and Clark from the EDUCAUSE 2001 Forum for the Future of Higher Education called "Disruption in Education."
Christensenâ€™s theory, developed in the corporate realm, is based on the constant pursuit of excellence by both businesses and higher education institutions. As the quality of products increases, they often surpass the needs of their consumers, leaving a gap to be filled by a disruptive innovation (a product or service of lower quality or performance that more closely matches consumersâ€™ needs). Other features make the innovation appealing as well, such as being cheaper, simpler, and more convenient to use. Early adopters of the disruptive technology or service most often are the least demanding customers in a market.
That last sentence catches me. Early adopters are the least demanding. They say: "The video quality isn't anywhere near as good as a DVD - but it works and it's free. Google Docs doesn't have all the features of Word - but I don't use most of the Word features anyway and with Docs I can collaborate on a document online easily and never even have to email a file or carry a flashdrive copy of the file."
Look at the early adopters in your school: the ones who are trying out Second Life or signed up to pilot Moodle while everyone else was in Blackboard or were the first ones to try a podcast, create a wiki, or have a blog for class. If they really were early in their adoption, they were probably willing to accept some shortcomings in the technology innovation because they also saw the potential.