My understanding of his disrupting schools (Disrupting Class: How Disruptive Innovation Will Change the Way the World Learns) thesis is taken from these reviews:
(1) Children learn in different ways (2) Disruptive innovations gain a foothold and revolutionize a market because they target a niche audience who normally could not consume a good (3) Online learning is a disruptive technology (4) Computers in schools are not disruptive technology (5) Computers “can” be a disruptive innovation, when used to create new learning situationsSteve Hargadon:
- Disruptive Innovation in Education
From my reading, the disruptive innovation is not online education, but the increasing expectation that our children/students will have a customized educational experience. This makes a lot of sense to me, since having watched the ed tech world for some years now, it's hard to imagine a "technology" (even one as compelling as online education) motivating educators or parents to dramatic change. There are just too many practical daily concerns to make it believable that the unfulfilled promise of computing would "disrupt" our current system. On the other hand, a shift from the industrial model of schooling to one that is more responsive to our individual children does seem like an unstoppable force, since increasing parents' expectations for the education of their own children carries huge motivation and power (the authors' claim that in many school districts already over a third of their spending is on special education students [p. 34].)I also note that Christensen has been criticised for overstating the case about the extent to which school is a factory model. Andy Zucker writes:
- A First Look at "Disrupting Class" by Clayton Christensen
Readers may learn something about the process of innovation from Disrupting Class, but they will not learn how creative school systems for years have been applying technology in precisely the ways that Disrupting Class recommends, namely to individualize learning, to make it more effective for greater numbers of students, and to offer alternatives to students who are not being served well by existing schoolsI then watched this video:
- Lost in Cyberspace: A Review of Disrupting Class
where Christensen promotes his book and noticed a couple of straw men in there, one of them identified by Andy Zucker above. He does stress too much that school is like an assembly line. He takes a partial truth and turns it into an absolute. Christensen also subscribes uncritically to the multiple intelligences model. This, of course, suits his theory of the urgent need for more individualised instruction. However, the fly in the ointment here is that multiple intelligences is pretty much discredited as a theory of cognitive development. See Dan Willingham's Learning Styles Don't Exist
I have the impression that Christensen lacks detailed knowledge of where schools are at and is not up to date with learning theories. The purpose of the business world where Christensen initially developed his theories is to make money. A disruptive innovation which ends up making money is a success in these terms. School is far more complex than this.I'm wondering whether Christensen appreciates the complexity and multifaceted nature of schools. At this stage I'm thinking that I won't buy his book because I suspect I will be disappointed in this regard. I'd be interested in hearing from people who have read the book about this.
Nevertheless, the big idea of Christensen's theory - that digital online learning can meet unmet individual learning needs to the point that this will disrupt school significantly - is plausible and well worth thinking and talking about. Education reform has a long, long history and often people ask why reform proceeds at a snails pace. In other posts I have been critical of sections of the web2.0 movement for shallowness. The Christensen thesis, despite flaws, opens a new door here because it is concrete enough and tangible enough to transcend much of the complexity of school as an institution. In a sense, it's good because it is written by an outsider who doesn't know all the complexity of real school. This fits into the general Christensen thesis that incumbents are too bogged down in their own processes to undergo significant transformation.
I also wanted to say something about theories of disruption but will leave that to another post. That is another bonus from Christensen, he puts the whole notion of disruption as a concept onto the agenda.