Knock Knock. Who’s There? Disruptive Innovation. WHAT?!

“door knocker”
by Robin Taylor on flickr.
C C by 2.0

As I explored the theme of communications and the Internet this week, I thought about the future. Specifically, I thought about my future as a teacher, and I wondered where I would be in 2023 and what my classroom would look like?

I searched the Web on the topic of the future of education and kept coming across the term disruptive innovation. Now, in teacher parlance, “disruptive” is not a term generally associated with positive images, and warm, fuzzy feelings, so my first thought was, “Oh no!”

What I learned after more research, however, was that a disruptive innovation need not be feared at all. In fact, it generally means good news for most of us. In it’s simplest terms, a disruptive innovation is a game changer, or shift-maker.  It creates a change in the status quo. 

In the case of education, online educational programs, such as virtual schools, and massive open online courses (MOOCs) are considered disruptive innovations, because they are creating a shift away from the traditional K-12 school model.  (This, of course, is my simplified interpretation of the theory of disruptive innovation. You can read more about the theory developed by Dr. Clayton Christensen here.)

This shift, resulting from the expansion of online programs, increased use of social media, and integration of other emerging technologies, is exciting because it offers a more flexible and personalized learning experience for students. However, I still wanted to explore what the changing landscape might mean for my students and me, for my school, and for my classroom. So, I continued my research.

A glimpse of the future through different lenses.

Some of the predictions I came across for what learning might look like in the future indicated a radical change from where we are now. One such prediction by KnowledgeWorks takes the idea of personalized learning to the extreme.

In the scenario imagined by KnowledgeWorks, students, who may or may not use  “augmentations” (medications or cognitive implants that help humans manage the vast information flow they receive and must process each day) work with their parents and  a team of “learning agents” to develop an individualized “learning playlist” tailored to their unique needs, interests, talents, and availability. The students could attend a learning center, a traditional “brick and mortar” school or just learn independently, at home or wherever they are, under the guidance of their parents, meeting periodically with a variety of “learning agents” to help them set and meet their individual learning goals.

Other predictions I read dealt with rise in popularity of online K-12 charter schools, also known as “cyber” charter schools.  Many of these virtual schools offer a completely online learning experience for students from kindergarten through twelfth grade. With online programs also offered by colleges and universities, a student could potentially never step foot in a brick and mortar school. Although some educators such as Ali Carr-Chellman, have raised concerns about private, non-profit, virtual schools that compete with the traditional, public, brick and mortar model, proponents of online schools say they appreciate the personalization and flexibility that these programs offer.

Will brick and mortar schools be replaced by personalized, online learning programs?(And where would that leave me, as a “brick and mortar school teacher?”)

A recent blog post by Michael Horn, from the Clayton Christensen Institute explains what his organization feels might actually happen to K-12 education in the future. In his post, Horn summarizes the most recent paper published by his organization on K-12 blended learning titled, Is K-12 blended learning disruptive? An introduction to the theory of hybrids.

A key idea presented in this paper is the concept of hybridization, which Horn points out, is a new concept in the world of disruptive innovation.  In explaining how this works in education, Horn points out that it is difficult for an innovation such as online education to totally replace brick and mortar schools because in order for a disruptive innovation to supplant an existing technology or entity, there has to be a growing number of consumers who are not served by what the existing entity has to offer.

This is not true in the case of schools in the U.S. he writes, because “every student has access to a government-funded school of some sort.” Where disruption is likely to take place however, according to Horn, is at the classroom level, since the blended learning model offers students who attend traditional schools more opportunities for individualization, specialized courses, credit recovery options, and so on.

Horn, also writes that his organization feels there will likely continue to be a market at the K-12 level for consumers who choose totally online programs. However, this model will probably not overtake the traditional school.  Instead, the Clayton Christensen Institute concludes that traditional schools will most likely “leverage online learning for academics… [and]… focus far more on providing well-kept facilities that students want to attend with great face-to-face supports, high quality meals, and a range of athletic, musical, and artistic programs (Christensen, Horn, and Staker, 2012, p.5).”

A plan for the future.

In the end the only thing I can control with regard to the future of education is how I respond to it as an educator.  Following are some principles I came up with to guide me as we head into the future: 

  • Keep up with technology and best practices by continuously developing and nurturing your Personal Learning Network (PLN). Change is happening so rapidly and we are bombarded with so much new information everyday. As educators we will all benefit from helping each other navigate the shift in our educational landscape.
  • Stay flexible, and look for ways to take full advantage of the new resources as they become available for learners. There are hundreds of ways to benefit from the technology that is and will be available to extend and personalize learning for our students. We can use our students as resources, too. Last year, a student asked me if he could use Evernote, which he had on his phone, to work on his paper in class instead of hand-writing a draft and then retyping it at home. I asked him to explain Evernote to me. It made sense, so l let him use it. I got to learn about a new application that I could use myself and that I could invite other students to use to enhance their productivity. 
  •  Look to recognized certification, resource and advocacy organizations such as The International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) for standards and best practices. Organizations such as this are developed by educators, for educators and their students.
  •  Be proactive as a change agent at school or within the school district, and get parents and students involved, too. Teachers have an important voice in any conversation about how classrooms are reshaped and redefined as technology becomes a more integral part of instruction. Teachers are “on the front lines”  and will be the ones responsible for implementing changes in our classrooms and using the technology to help our students learn.
  • Hang on and enjoy the ride. It’s an exciting time to be a teacher, to experience emerging technologies as we use them to transform the way our students learn about and interact in the world.

How do you envision your classroom and your role as a teacher in the future? What guiding principles would you add to help us, as teachers, navigate our way through the future?


Barseghian, Tina.(2013, July 25). What the future of learning might look like. [Web Log Post] Retrieved from

Christensen, C., Horn, M., and Staker, C. (2013). Is K-12 blended learning disruptive? An introduction to the theory of hybrids [white paper]. Retrieved from September 11,2013.

KnowledgeWorks forecast 3.0: learning in 2025. (n.d.) Retrieved from September 9, 2013.


About amysullvn

I have taught 9th and 10th grade Intensive Reading and Advancement Via Individual Determination (AVID) for the past 8 years in Brevard County, FL. I am currently working toward the completion of my masters degree in Instructional Design and Technology/Educational Technology at the University of Central Florida.
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5 Responses to Knock Knock. Who’s There? Disruptive Innovation. WHAT?!

  1. “In the end the only thing I can control with regard to the future of education is how I respond to it as an educator.”

    This is so true, Amy! I appreciated your cogent and thorough thinking through possible future trends and your reaction to these possible futures. The principles you’ve articulated for yourself are, in my opinion, good goals for any educator trying to stay relevant in teaching for the future.

    A great read! Thanks, Amy!


    • amysullvn says:

      Thank you, Dr. Thompson. It’s funny that, before this class, I hadn’t ever considered what my classroom might look like in 10 years. I’m so glad I’ve had an opportunity to take a peek at the future. I like what I see! 🙂

  2. What an excellent, informative post, Amy! I too have been a secondary reading teacher in Florida and a student in UCF’s E-learning Certificate program. I am also very concerned about the politics of K12 education in Florida. When you mention some of the concerns about “cyber-charter” schools, you caught my attention. Florida is dealing with some of the same issues mentioned in the TED-X video by Ali Carr-Chellman, but in Florida we have our own distinct variations. and Connections Academy are well-known national online curriculum providers for K-12 students. They are FOR-PROFIT companies. Florida Virtual School was started by the Florida State Legislature in 1996 to develop online learning options for high school students. It has become a leader in developing innovative excellent curriculum, and implementing a revolutionary concept allowing students to learn at their own pace on their own preferred schedule. However, two or three years ago, the Florida legislature voted to make it MANDATORY for every high school student to take at least one online course in order to graduate. The legislature also suddenly mandated that FLVS expand to offer courses for grades K-8. In response, FLVS contracted with Connections Academy (a for-profit curriculum provider) to provide online education for K-8 students. Florida school districts are also offering their own online virtual schools to students in their own district. Many of these district virtual schools are managed by either, which has come under investigation by the state DOE for using out-of-field teachers. has also been known to ask teachers to serve as many as 275 students at the secondary level. This far exceeds Florida’s class-size limit. Since Connections Academy is also a for-profit company, I suspect that the teacher:student ratio in their courses (even those at FLVS) also exceeds Florida’s class-size limits. I am afraid these for-profit companies are using tax-payer money to make a substantial profit rather than provide a high quality education for Florida students. During the last session of the Florida state legislature, the funding formula for online learning was changed so that BOTH the local school district AND FLVS are receiving less money when a student enrolls in an FLVS course. This is a boost to the income of the for-profit companies (primarily, and has met a substantial cut in jobs at FLVS. Here is an article about it.

    As an older teacher, I am beginning to find class room teaching to be too demanding physically. I decided to enroll in the e-learning certificate program at UCF in order make that transition; and I completed four out of the five required courses. However, I have determined that I do not want to work for a for-profit education company; and with the recent funding cuts to FLVS and the subsequent lay-off of hundreds of FLVS teachers

    I have given up on my dream of teaching at the cutting-edge of innovation at FLVS. Online education has great potential to disrupt public education in a positive way. But the lobbies for the for-profit education companies are successfully influencing our state legislators to the detriment of Florida’s students.

    Anyway, your post is excellent, and I wish you well in this wild and crazy world of public education.

    • amysullvn says:

      Holly, thank you so much for your encouraging words and all of the information you provided about the virtual school situation in Florida and nationwide. I am just beginning to study the issues you’ve outlined, so I appreciate the background and your perspective as a teacher. It sounds as though you are an advocate for e-learning but are opposed to the idea of for-profit education companies offering online services to students in competition with public schools. (I hope I have expressed that correctly.) I was saddened to read that you were giving up on your dream of teaching at FLVS. Aren’t there many others who oppose the idea of for-profit education companies competing with public schools in FL, and does the change in funding automatically mean that for-profit schools will replace FLVS? As I mentioned, I am just beginning to explore the virtual school world, and learn about the situation in Florida, in particular. I would love to continue the conversation as I learn more. Thank you again for sharing. I sincerely appreciate your thoughts and the opportunity to exchange ideas. Amy

      • The vocabulary of e-learning politics is very deceptive. is behind many of the official county virtual schools; and Connections Academy (which is owned by Pearson) is now contracted to provide the elementary and middle school courses for FLVS. Those two for-profit companies are really the main players in Florida, although there may be a few others. They spend a great deal of money in Tallahassee lobbying for laws that will benefit their bottom line. In some respects, they are like charter schools. They use taxpayer money to underpay and over-work teachers and to pay their out-of-state executives and share holders. They are eager to enroll students, but they really don’t care much whether the students complete the courses they take–as long as they get paid our public funds for claiming the student.

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