Disruptive Innovation

By Andrew Trotter — October 17, 2008 1 min read

Clayton M. Christensen is the lead author of a 2008 book that predicts that the share of high school instruction taking place over the Internet will start rising sharply in about four years, until online courses constitute more than 50 percent of all high school course enrollments by 2019.

Technology-based forces of “disruptive innovation” are gathering around public education and will overhaul the way K-12 students learn—with potentially dramatic consequences for established public schools, according to a new book that draws parallels to disruptions in other industries.

Disrupting Class: How Disruptive Innovation Will Change the Way the World Learns predicts that the growth in computer-based delivery of education will accelerate swiftly until, by 2019, half of all high school classes will be taught over the Internet.

Clayton M. Christensen, the book’s lead author and a professor at the Harvard Business School, is well respected in the business world for his best-sellers The Innovator’s Dilemma, published in 1997, and The Innovator’s Solution, published in 2003.

“The schools as they are now structured cannot do it,” Christensen said in an interview. “Even the best managers in the world, if they were heads of departments in schools and the administrators of schools, could not do it.”

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What technological innovations have changed the way you teach and the way your students learn? And is it easier to adapt innovations to the classroom, or to adapt the classroom to the innovation? Discuss the changing learning landscape in our forum.

Like the leaders in other industries, the book says, the education establishment has crammed down technology onto the field’s existing architecture, which is dominated by the “monolithic” processes of textbook creation and adoption, teaching practices and training, and standardized assessment—which, despite some efforts at individualization, by and large treat students the same.

The book is “brilliant,” says Adam Urbanski, the president of the Rochester, N.Y., affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers and an AFT vice president. “Most people pose the question of how we can improve the current system. [Christensen] poses the different question of how we can have a different system than what we already have.”