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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.

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    1. Mark Stevens     August 16, 2013  1:34 pm Reply

      Mr. Luthi,

      You speak truly when you say: “online learning bears marks of disruptive innovation.” It does. It confronts educators, in my K-12 world, with the possible need to change, and most do not like it.

      There is still a strong current of what you seem to be referring to as nonconsumption in some levels of a major Northern Virginia school district with which I am very familiar. However, and this is confirmation of your statement that online learning is a major part of the future of education, I heard a curriculum specialist from that district mention in May of 2013 that we would need to change the way we design our curriculum within the next 5 years to meet the needs of students in a developing online learning world. Online Learning is indeed slowly working its way into the mainstream of the future of K-12 education.
      In response to your question: “How does blended learning fit into this equation?” Much as you relate, as a hybrid solution that incorporates disruption into a status-quo like format . The sessions at curriculum conferences in our area that seem to be quite heavily attended are the ones that mention, is some way, Blended Learning. People can become comfortable with using online learning methods a little in a Blended experience. Hook teachers with something they can deal with, introduce them to even more innovation ideas, and hopefully creativity will take over.