Are students buying what schools are selling?

Calls for innovation in education seem to get louder by the day. “Innovation” has become the catchall term for the urge to make up for what our current system lacks; a system that, on balance, is neither delivering an equally high-quality education to all students, nor designed to reliably prepare young people for the modern workforce.

From there, of course, opinions about what sorts of innovations we ought to invest in, and to what end, vary politically and philosophically. At the Christensen Institute, we’ve always divvied up these wide-ranging ideas into two main categories, which Clay Christensen first identified in the 1980s: sustaining and disruptive innovations. Those categories are helpful in identifying the dimensions along which organizations are improving and how new business models can displace existing ones. But disruptive innovation theory has little to tell us about whether a particular innovation will be successful.

Enter Clay Christensen’s newest book, Competing Against Luck, out earlier this week. In it, Christensen and his co-authors Taddy Hall, Karen Dillon, and David Duncan chronicle the coming of age of another theory that may prove just as, if not more, powerful than disruptive innovation: the theory of jobs to be done.…Read More

Online learning: Disruptive innovation in progress

Online learning is a disruptive innovation—an innovation that transforms a sector by making it simpler, more convenient, and affordable.

As online learning has grown rapidly in K-12 education, news stories have captured several angles about the phenomenon.

Some have chronicled great online learning experiences that illustrate its potential to remake the public education system into one that can personalize for different student needs. Others have portrayed seemingly bad examples of online learning and called into question its broader potential. Still others have just reported on its rapid—and sometimes viral—growth and left it there.

But the news coverage has largely failed to capture two of the critical strands underlying these story lines: an understanding of how a disruptive innovation evolves and the role of public policy in shaping it.…Read More

Top 10 ed-tech stories of 2009: No. 6

Online learning has the power to transform education, as the creation of free online universities demonstrates.
Online learning has the power to transform education, as the creation of free online universities demonstrates.

Although technically it was published in 2008, Disrupting Class: How Disruptive Innovation Will Change the Way the World Learns, by Clayton Christensen, Curtis W. Johnson, and Michael Horn, made a huge impression in the past year, and its authors spoke at numerous education conferences in 2009. Their ideas proved quite prophetic later in the year, when a new online-learning movement that is sure to disrupt higher education began.

At the American Association of School Administrators’ annual conference in February, Christensen explained the premise of his thought-provoking book, which looks at why schools have struggled to improve through the lens of “disruptive innovation.”

If Christensen is right, half of all instruction will take place online within the next 10 years–and schools had better get into the online-learning market or risk losing their students to other providers.…Read More