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White Paper: Fitting Online Learning into the Framework of Hybrid Solutions

Posted on Jul 12, 2013

Paper pointing arrows at the words A,B,C, and D.In the first part of this series, we discussed what makes a solution a “hybrid solution” and we differentiated between disruptive and sustaining innovations. However, we did not quite reach the point where we could connect online learning, and more specifically, blended learning, into the framework established in the Clayton Christensen Institute’s white paper. Now, though, we can begin to analyze online learning with the ideas that have been established.

In their introduction, authors Christensen, Horn, and Staker tell us that “Innovation is not a black box. A set of consistent patterns offers a way for people to look into the future and anticipate where different innovations will lead.” One might be surprised by this assertion because we typically feel as though innovators are creative geniuses who may need to rely on luck as much as talent in order to establish a foothold in a market, and moreover, that there is no good way to determine if an innovation represents a challenge to the status quo. These assumptions, however, are not necessarily true.

There currently exists enough information to make some strong conjectures as to the future of online learning and blended learning. The first thing that is immediately apparent is that “online learning bears marks of disruptive innovation.” The fact that online learning first had to compete against nonconsumption (using new, disruptive technology versus using nothing at all) is a major indicator of the disruptive status of online learning. Now, the authors tell us, enough data exists such that analysts can look at the ratio of market share held by new innovation to determine that, by 2019, 50% of high school courses will be delivered through online learning.

There is also another observable pattern with disruptive innovations, that being that, “in the end, disruptions almost always become good enough to meet the needs of mainstream customers who, delighted, adopt them. In other words, the disruptive models almost always supplant the sustaining models over the long term.” Based on this, we can confidently assert that online learning is a major part of the future of education.

How does blended learning fit into this equation, though? Remember that disruptive innovations first compete against nonconsumption. At the level of school districts, nonconsumption is effectively nonexistent because the vast majority of children go to a government-funded school. Because there is no nonconsumption, disruptive innovations are not good ways in which to impose a new standard of doing business. This is precisely how blended learning fits into the equation: blended learning is a hybrid solution that can compete against the status quo while incorporating disruptive innovations. Thus, the authors confidently assert that “the hybrid solution of blended-learning schools will likely be the dominant model of schooling in the United States in the future.”

Josh Luthi is a computer science student at the University of Kansas and has a penchant for politics.

Survey Results

Posted on Jul 11, 2013

Pieces of paper pointing at a brain.The International Society for Technology in Education (ITSE) held their 34th annual conference in San Antonio, Texas. Highlights included exploring gamification from a leadership perspective, workshops on collaborative efforts, ed tech panels, and discussions between education leaders and start-up entrepreneurs. The Center’s own David Rose, Senior Principal Investigator, attended the ITSE conference, and gave a presentation. The presentation introduced Universal Learning Design to the audience, and was focused on learner variability and the imperative for UDL in online learning. There
was a great backchannel during his talk, which can be found here (
scroll down to the tweetsposted on 6/26).

The Center also had a chance to send out a survey to the attendees of the talk, and here are the results. We asked six questions, which were:

  1. How confident are you that online instruction is improving the quality of learning for typically-achieving students?
  2. How confident are you that online instruction is improving the quality of learning for students with disabilities?
  3. Online learning teachers are provided with the training they need to teach effectively online.
  4. Online learning teachers are provided with the training they need to teach students with disabilities effectively online. 
  5. Online learning providers (e.g., Compass Learning, K12 Inc., Apex Learning, etc.) typically take into account research in the learning sciences when they design their instructional technologies.
  6. Online learning providers (e.g., Compass Learning, K12 Inc., Apex Learning, etc.) typically take the needs of students with disabilities into account when they design their instructional technologies.

Available responses for questions 1,2, and 6 included not confident, somewhat confident, moderately confident, mostly confident, and very confident.
Available responses for questions 3,4, and 5 included strongly disagree, disagree, neutral, agree, strongly agree, and don’t know.

Here are the results:

Question 1: How confident are you that online instruction is improving the quality of learning for typically-achieving students?

  • Not Confident: 12.00%
  • Somewhat Confident: 20.00%
  • Moderately Confident: 20.00%
  • Mostly Confident: 32.00%
  • Very Confident: 16.00%

Question 2: How confident are you that online instruction is improving the quality of learning for students with disabilities?

  • Not Confident: 20.00%
  • Somewhat Confident: 24.00%
  • Moderately Confident: 28.00%
  • Mostly Confident: 20.00%
  • Very Confident: 8.00%

Question 3: Online learning teachers are provided with the training they need to teach effectively online.

  • Strongly Disagree: 8.00%
  • Disagree: 52.00%
  • Neutral: 28.00%
  • Agree: 0.00%
  • Strongly Agree: 4.00%
  • Don’t Know: 8.00%

Question 4: Online learning teachers are provided with the training they need to teach students with disabilities effectively online.

  • Strongly Disagree: 40.00%
  • Disagree: 28.00%
  • Neutral: 12.00%
  • Agree: 0.00%
  • Strongly Agree: 0.00%
  • Don’t Know: 16.00%
  • Missing: 4.00%

Question 5: Online learning providers (e.g., Compass Learning, K12 Inc., Apex Learning, etc.) typically take into account research in the learning sciences when they design their instructional technologies.

  • Strongly Disagree: 8.00%
  • Disagree: 24.00%
  • Neutral: 32.00%
  • Agree: 12.00%
  • Strongly Agree: 4.00%
  • Don’t Know: 20.00%

Question 6: Online learning providers (e.g., Compass Learning, K12 Inc., Apex Learning, etc.) typically take the needs of students with disabilities into account when they design their instructional technologies.

  • Strongly Disagree: 12.00%
  • Disagree: 36.00%
  • Neutral: 16.00%
  • Agree: 8.00%
  • Strongly Agree: 4.00%
  • Don’t Know: 24.00%

A chart of the occupations of our respondents:

  • K-12 General Educator: 12.00%
  • K-12 Special Educator: 0.00%
  • Related Service Personnel (OT/PT/SLP, etc.): 0.00%
  • Teacher Educator: 32.00%
  • Administrator: 8.00%
  • Technology Specialist: 24.00%
  • Researcher: 0.00%
  • Other (University Staff, consultant, online learning developer): 16.00%
  • Missing: 8.00%

White Paper: Is K-12 Blended Learning Disruptive?

Posted on Jul 10, 2013

Paper pointing arrows at the words A,B,C, and D.Recently, the Clayton Christensen Institute, which you may previously know as Innosight Institute, has published a white paper regarding “disruptive” innovation in K-12 learning. At first glance, one might wonder what exactly the authors mean when they say “disruptive innovation.” If you are a teacher, the idea of disruption in the classroom probably sounds like cause for concern, but with this, as with almost everything, context is key. In terms of innovation, something that is disruptive is something that “offers a new definition of what’s good.” These innovations are “simpler, more convenient, and less expensive products that appeal to new or less demanding customers.” When a disruptive product becomes well-known and is in high demand, it becomes readily available and consequently changes a sector.

The opposite of disruptive innovation is sustained innovation. Sustaining innovations “help leading organizations make better products that can often be sold for better profits to their best customers.” Sustaining innovations are essentially “safe” bets for a business to take, while disruptive innovations can be risky because there is no guarantee that consumers will actually be interested in a disruptive innovation.

Now, if the only types of innovation in the business world were disruptive and sustaining, it is not particularly likely that we would see a lot of innovations that end up changing the world and moving humanity forward. Luckily, there is a middle ground between disruptive and sustaining innovations. This middle ground is a “hybrid solution.” Hybrids are a “combination of new, disruptive technology with old technology and represents a sustaining innovation relative to the old technology.” Simply put, hybrids combine the reliability of a sustaining innovation with the radical change possible with disruptive technology. Businesses can feel secure in producing a hybrid product because the product contains proven innovations. At the same time, businesses can push forward into unexplored territory because they know that the sustaining portion of their hybrid solution will protect them from spectacular failure.

The question going forward, then, is how blended learning fits into this idea of sustaining innovations versus disruptive innovations, and how hybrid solutions might allow us to explain blended learning.

Stay tuned for the second part of the white paper report, out this Friday.

Josh Luthi is a computer science student at the University of Kansas and has a penchant for politics.