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Disruptive Education

Over the break, I was reading The Innovative University: Changing the DNA of Higher Education from the Inside Out and it fits very nicely into my current thinking about the evolution of School 2.0 in the next few decades. 

It is co-written by Clayton Christensen, which is what initially caught my eye. He is considered "the father of the theory of disruptive innovation." His previous books include The Innovator's Dilemma, which examined business innovation, and The Innovator's DNA: Mastering the Five Skills of Disruptive Innovators.  

The Innovative University is at first an analysis of the traditional university that we know in order to get at its "DNA" which then leads to the how (and why) higher education needs to change to have any future success.

From the book jacket: "The language of crisis is nothing new in higher education—for years critics have raised alarms about rising tuition, compromised access, out of control costs, and a host of other issues. Yet, though those issues are still part of the current crisis, it is not the same as past ones. For the first time, disruptive technologies are at work in higher education. For most of their histories, traditional universities and colleges have had no serious competition except from institutions with similar operating models. Now, though, there are disruptive competitors offering online degrees. Many of these institutions operate as for-profit entities, emphasizing marketable degrees for working adults. Traditional colleges and universities have valuable qualities and capacities that can offset those disruptors' advantages—but not for everyone who aspires to higher education, and not without real innovation. How can institutions of higher education think constructively and creatively about their response to impending disruption? 

Throughout the book Christensen and Eyring show what it takes to apply Christensen's acclaimed model of disruptive innovation to a higher education environment. The Innovative University explores how universities can find innovative, less costly ways of performing their uniquely valuable functions and thereby save themselves from decline." 

Disruptive innovation, a term of art coined by Clayton Christensen, describes a process by which a product or service takes root initially in simple applications at the bottom of a market and then moves "up market" to eventually displace the established form. 

Examples of disruptive innovation include cellular phones disrupting fixed line telephony, and the traditional full-service department store being disrupted by online and discount retailers. Christensen also sees an earlier disruptor of the four-year college experience as being community colleges.

I agree with him that companies tend to innovate faster than their customers’ lives change - newer phones but customers who don't want to upgrade yet - and so most organizations end up producing products or services that are actually too good and too expensive for many of their customers. 

But I don't think that model works for education. 

In education, customers/students innovate faster than the schools. They have the technology in their hands before we have it or a way to use it in our classrooms. And yet, schools continue to charge too much for an inferior product. 

I wish I believed that education was consciously opening the door to “disruptive innovations,” but that is not what I see.  

Christensen teaches at the Harvard Business School. Although he has had health issues the past few years, he continues to write and I discovered that he has a newer book, Disrupting Class: How Disruptive Innovation Will Change the Way the World Learns, that I will need to order. 

It seems that in education, Christensen and the other authors are pointing to "student-centric education" as the disruptor of our current "interdependent curricular architecture." Much of that is made possible through technology. 

He has written about online learning for student-centered innovation and many educators and institutions will be pleased to hear that disruptive technology/innovation in education can help create a new market and value network. 

They will be less pleased to know that it eventually goes on to disrupt the existing market and eventually displaces it. 

Disruptive ideas improves a product or service in ways that the market does not expect. Those services will be designed for a different set of consumers. It will probably lower the cost in the existing market. That might translate into the new, improved School 2.0 made for Student 2.0. And all at a lower cost. But who will be providing that education? Harvard, NJIT, Passaic County Community College, MITx, University of Phoenix, The Open University, Google, Facebook or some new entity that doesn't even exist today?

Books by Clayton M. Christensen

Disrupting Education With Apps

Tomorrow, I am giving a keynote for faculty at Bloomfield College. It's about how software apps and mobile computing in general is impacting teaching. "Educating in an App World" is still to come for most classrooms.

Sure, "There's an app for that" has gone from being an advertising tagline to being a solution for many software needs. Apps – small, easy to download software for mobile devices – are definitely changing how students at all level are using technology.

Watch pre-schoolers playing with their parents phones and tablets. Have you seen a 3 year old go up to a TV screen and try to drag or pinch an image? It's how they expect to interact with technology.

I have found more apps available for the K-12 world than for higher education. But, we limit the use of mobile devices in classrooms, especially in the lower grades. Teachers are more likely to ban phones than make use of them.

But that IS changing. Apps are changing the way colleges design and deploy software and it is moving into classrooms.

The idea of "disruptive innovation" (which was coined by Clayton Christensen) is that a product or service takes root initially in simple applications at the bottom of a market but then moves “up market" and eventually displaces the established competitors.

Disruptive innovation: cellular phones disrupted fixed line telephony; traditional full-service department stores have been disrupted by online and discount retailers; doctor’s offices are being displaced by medical clinics. Maybe the traditional four-year college experience is being displaced in degrees by community colleges, online learning and school 2.0.

The problem is that education isn't business, no matter how much politicians and critics want it to be.

Take innovation. Companies tend to innovate faster than their customers’ lives change. There are newer phones but customers who don't want to upgrade yet. The company ends up producing products or services that are actually too good and too expensive for many of their customers. But in education, those "customers" that we prefer to call students innovate faster than the schools. Students probably have the technology in their hands before we can offer it or have a way to use it in our classrooms.

What is changing in higher ed? Firts, is how students use technology with or without our guidance. That is driving changes in the way colleges design or purchase websites and software. Go back more than a decade and a school had to get a website. Then they had to get a better website. Now, you better have some apps. 

The ways colleges deploy software is also changing. Did your school offer software on CDs? Did it move to downloads? Did it move away from even supplying software or requiring a computer? Will it offer apps?

The greatest change comes when educators can implement apps for teaching. Initially, colleges use it for campus-wide initiatives like admissions, but we are seeing it begin to move into classroom use.

Do you agree with this critic? “For this invention will produce forgetfulness in the minds of those who learn to use it, because they will not practice their memory. You have invented an elixir not of memory, but of reminding; and you offer your pupils the appearance of wisdom, not true wisdom, for they will read many things without instruction and will therefore seem to know many things, when they are for the most part ignorant and hard to get along with, since they are not wise, but only appear wise.”   That was Socrates on the written word, see Phaedrus, 340 BC.

Welcome to the app world.


How Disrupted Is Education?

track disruption

I had bookmarked a post last fall on emergingedtech.com about digital disruption and it got me wondering about just how disruptive some recent "disruptors" have actually been to education. The article lists six: Delivery, Flipped Classroom, Tools Available, Micro-credentialing, Competency-Based Education (CBE) and Learning Science.

You can argue with their six choices, but they are all disruptors. I might have added others, such as Open Education Resources, including MOOC, but I suppose that might fall under "delivery" too. 

In 2012, when I was deep into MOOCland, I read The Innovative University: Changing the DNA of Higher Education from the Inside OutIt is co-written by Clayton Christensen, who is considered "the father of the theory of disruptive innovation." His previous books include The Innovator's Dilemma, which examined business innovation, and The Innovator's DNA: Mastering the Five Skills of Disruptive Innovators

After four decades as an educator, I would say that education in general gets disrupted rather slowly, but here are some thoughts on these disruptions. Are we talking about disruption in K-12 or higher education, or in the whole of educations.

By DELIVERY, they are including, and probably focused on, online delivery. The US DOE reported back in 2012 that 1 in 4 students has taken some or all of their courses online, and that figure is predicted to grow steadily. In higher ed, online learning is firmly in place. It disrupted, and now the waters have calmed. In K-12, the disruption is still to come.

The FLIPPED CLASSROOM was big a few years ago in K-12. It never really caught on or was part of the conversation in higher ed. It's not gone and it is still being tweaked and studied. This idea of  on continues to expand. The annual Horizons Report for 2015 predicted this would have widespread adoption immediately, but that didn't happen.

Certainly the number and VARIETY OF TOOLS available to educators has grown and continues to grow every week. Viewed as an umbrella of tools, they are more disruptive than any individual tool. We have seen many predictions that adaptive learning tools, VR and AR, 3D printing and other tools would radically change they way we teach. None of them have "changed everything."

Maybe you're seeing a pattern in my responses. There hasn't been a major disruption. When I wondered four years ago who was really being disrupted in higher ed, I was thinking about what a University 2.0 might mean. I have the larger category on this blog of Education 2.0. We definitely moved into Web 2.0 after only a few decades, but after a few centuries education is beyond 1.0 but not over the line into a major change that I would consider 2.0. 

I do believe that things like MICRO-CREDENTIALING, CBE and the growth of LEARNING SCIENCE will change things. Combined, all these disruptors will certainly move us closer to that Education 2.0.

Beyond micro-credentialing, I see an entire reconsideration of credits and degrees as the biggest disruption to traditional education (as opposed to learning). Will movements like the Lumina Foundation's framework for “connecting diverse credentials” unite (or divide) non-traditional sources like MOOC courses and professional development training?

That leads right into Competency Based Education. The Department of Education (which plays a much bigger role in K-12) seems to be very serious about CBE.  This is big disruption of the centuries old clock hours and seat time for credits towards degrees. 

LEARNING SCIENCE that is deepening what we know about how we learn, and the relationship between different tools, may have a bigger impact on pedagogy than on how a school looks when you walk into a classroom. 

Maybe the Internet or "technology" should be the disruptor we point to that changed education as it touches all of these other disruptors. 

Harvard Online

2 Harvard Business School 036

The question posed in a NY Times article recently was "Should Harvard Business School enter the business of online education, and, if so, how?" I was surprised that they had not done online education already. Then again, it is Harvard - old and solid and, like many a university going back a decade or two, wondering if going online weakens the brand.

I don't really know that many universities that haven't gone online to some degree, and all of them first considered what the effect would be on their reputation and on their on-campus education. Then again, you don't want to risk being left behind either.


The elite Harvard Business School seems to be trying to have it both ways. They have a new type of credential called the Credential of Readiness, or CORe, which students can take online.

Harvard has been doing MOOCs with edX, so is this really a big risk? Maybe.

The article references Clayton Christensen whose 1997 book, The Innovator's Dilemmaand The Innovative University: Changing the DNA of Higher Education from the Inside Out both got him a lot of attention. There were many articles about “disruptive innovation” and this latest article says that rival business schools (Stanford and the Wharton School) have been doing that with their massive open online courses. Offering MOOCs, free of charge to anyone, anywhere in the world doesn't seem to have destroyed their programs.

How do you place a value on having one of your professors reaching a million students? Does it dilute the value or make it grow?

Christensen's advice to Harvard is “Do it cheap and simple. Get it out there.”  But cheap and simple had never been the Harvard Business School way.

This week they launch HBX which doesn't compete with their MBA, but is a "pre-M.B.A."


"When we set out to create HBX, our mission was simple: To use technology to enhance our potential to educate leaders who make a difference in the world. We started with 100 plus years of experience in business education. We then sprinkled in every technological tool we had at our disposal. Finally, we mixed in the most critical ingredient of all, what we consider to be our secret sauce: our very own faculty, people who have spent their lives in passionate pursuit of excellence in teaching and learning.

With HBX, you'll discover that the digital learning tools are a means to an end. That doesn't mean we haven't tried to deploy these tools in a creative and ambitious way; on the contrary, we've poured hours into the conception of these learning instruments. However, the real focus has been on creating a learning experience that brings business education to life. At HBX, we believe that education should be cerebral, yes, but it should also be riveting, kinetic, social, and mind-bending. It should be a series of unanticipated discoveries that change your capacity to navigate the world. "