Online learning experts say hybrids are changing classrooms across the country; here’s how to spot them and implement them successfully

hybrid-innovation-schools Hybrid innovations are technologies that bridge tradition to the future, fundamentally changing how an entire industry performs, and according to education experts, K-12 is experiencing one hybrid technology that will reshape classrooms for the future. The hybrid’s name? Blended learning.

“There are two kids of innovation: sustaining and disruptive,” said Heather Staker, senior research fellow of education at the Clayton Christensen Institute, during a recent Consortium for School Networking (CoSN) webinar. “Sustaining innovation makes the traditional model, like a classroom, better almost immediately, but the impact is small. Disruptive innovation has a low impact at first, but slowly begins to change the status quo over time.”

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(Next page: Hybrids and classrooms)

Outside of education, Staker gave the example of the transistor, which competed with the vacuum tube. At first, the transistor wasn’t as sophisticated as the tube, but large companies affiliated with broadcasting took an interest and spent millions developing the technology. In 1951, the transistor was used as a hearing aid with little success.

However, in 1955 the transistor was used as a pocket radio, which although didn’t resonate well with the broad consumer market, was adopted, and promoted by, teenagers. The youth adoption of the technology eventually led to Sony’s 1959 portable television developed using the transistor, rendering the vacuum tube obsolete.

“Online learning is currently following the pattern of a disruptive innovation,” said Staker. “We can see this in the numbers we’ve been tracking at the Institute: By 2019, 50 percent of high schools will offer an online course. Online learning also got its start serving non-consumers [credit recovery, scheduling conflicts, professional development, after-school programs, and more]. It’s also getting better over time and migrating into brick-and-mortar settings through blended learning.”

(Read: “INFOGRAPHIC: Blended learning taking over schools.”)

Staker explained that blended learning is neither a sustaining innovation nor a disruptive innovation…at least, not yet. Instead, blended learning is a breed called hybrid innovation.

Hybrid innovations and classrooms

“Often industries experience a hybrid stage,” said Staker.

Consider excavators, or machines that dig material from the earth. At the time, cable machines were the standard until the hydraulic backscoop was released. Eventually, hydraulics took over cables completely, but between these two phases the hybrid machine, called a “Hyrdohoe” was invented and permeated the digging market.

Spotting a hybrid is easy if you know what to look for, explained Staker. Specifically, it:

  • Includes both the old and new technology
  • Targets existing users, not non-consumers
  • Tries to do the job of existing technology
  • Is less “foolproof” then a disruptive innovation

“You can see hybrid innovation in other markets everywhere,” Staker noted. “For example, hybrid cars that use both diesel and electricity. Blended learning is the hybrid innovation that is the between phase of traditional brick-and-mortar classrooms to pure online learning.”

So far, there are four emerging blended learning models available in classrooms today: 1) The Rotation model that includes station rotation, lab rotation, the flipped classroom, and individual rotation; 2) The Flex model; 3) The A La Carte model and; 4) The Enriched Virtual model.

(Read more about these four models: “Four must-read blended learning models.“)

“Some models of blended learning are hybrids,” Staker said, “including the Rotation model of station, lab and flipped; whereas Flex, A La Carte and the Enriched Virtual models are purely disruptive.”

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(Next page: How to use the right innovation in your school)

How to use the right innovation for you

The Christensen Institute notes four ways educators can spot hybrid innovations in education:

1. Measure itself against the traditional value proposition

2. Traditional + online

3. Focuses on core subjects for mainstream students

4. Requires expertise in both models

“The real question educators need to ask is, ‘What kind of innovation is best for my school, my classroom, and my students?’ And the answer can be varied depending on the audience and your goals. That’s why it’s important to understand how different kinds of innovations are affecting schools,” said Staker.

According to Staker, the hybrid models available through blended learning can help sustain and improve K-12 classrooms, because the station rotation model includes an online station to get students acquainted with online learning, a teacher-led instructional station, and a collaboration station.

This type of station rotation model also helps teacher’s ability to offer small group instruction and differentiated instruction, she said.

“One of the best indicators of a blended model success is with students in a school in South Central L.A. During the 2012-13 year they achieved an API performance on the California performance index of 991—the highest-performing school in the Los Angeles Unified School District, and the 10th highest in the state,” noted Staker. “They achieved these results partly because of the station rotation model they had implemented.”

She continued, “Lab rotation models and the flipped classroom are also great hybrid innovations for today’s schools. Not just for student achievement but for cost-control.”

For schools wondering if a sustaining innovation, such as the interactive whiteboard, or a disruptive technology, like online learning, is a better fit, Staker suggests developing a two-part strategy.

“Try to do a mix of both. Start with the problems you need to solve–your core problems, such as core course improvement for traditional learners. These core problems are usually a good fit with sustaining innovations or hybrid innovations. Next, move to your non-consumption problems, such as offering AP courses or resources for non in-building students. Non-consumption problems are usually a good fit for disruptive innovations.”

However, Staker emphasized that just because a disruptive innovation, like online learning, isn’t a perfect fit now, implementing hybrids like blended learning is a good idea, because the Institute “anticipate[s] that over time the disruptive models will take over high schools.”

“What’s interesting to consider here,” said Pam Moran, superintendent of Albemarle County Public Schools in Virginia, “is not just the technology needed to implement these disruptive innovations, but also the pedagogy. We call this disruptive pedagogy, or how teachers can change the curriculum and practice to match the disruptive learning.”

Moran concluded, “Investing in both sustaining and disruptive innovations in our schools is important because the kids need to feel comfortable with these changes in learning, too; that’s where sustaining comes in. However, we know it’s the kids that will drive the disruptive innovations for the future.”

For more information on this webinar, as well as other important topics in education, visit and join CoSN.