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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.

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