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.

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How to Start a (Technology) Revolution at Your School

Embracing technology: a matter of time or priority?

There are a lot of technophile teachers out there. You know the type, or you may even be one of them: they have the latest tablet and smart phone, are using all kinds of cool web apps in their classroom, have a blog or two going at the same time, and they manage to send out tweets several times a day – and on top of that, they really are awesome teachers!

But there are also many teachers who are still not plugged in, and when the conversation turns to technology, they say that although they like the idea of using more technology, they just don’t have the time to do anything about it.

This idea is brought up in a thought-provoking post by Bill Powers, Why ‘I Don’t Have Time for Technology’ is No Longer Excusable. Powers discusses how many educators use the excuse of being time challenged when it comes to keeping up to date with and using technology to enhance student learning and outcomes. So, instead of plugging in to the conversation, they let the conversation go on without them, claiming they don’t have time to tune in.

A great point Powers makes is that the use of social media, such as twitter, has made it much easier for busy professionals to stay up to date and share ideas with one another.  So, he wonders why it is that some educators don’t spend more time on learning and collaborating, to help them be more effective in their roles?  He asks his readers:  “is it lack of time, or something else?”

As I thought about my answer to this question and read other blogs on the topic, I considered the idea proposed by some that it was a teacher’s duty, part of his or her professional responsibility, to stay current and connected, especially when it comes to the practice of integrating technology into the classroom.  (See the post by Nicholas Provenzano Professionals Make Time For Learning for more on this.)

It is true, there is a lot at stake when it comes to keeping up with technology in our classrooms, and teachers do need to be effective at technological and digital integration.

Why we must get every educator to embrace technology

In their book, Shelly, Gunter and Gunter (2012) point out that our world is in the midst of a digital revolution and today’s students are fundamentally different from previous generations of learners. Not only do they view the world through the lens of technology, but they also think differently, and the backgrounds and expectations for learning that they bring into the classroom with them are different.

As educators we must meet our students where they are, and help them grow from there. To engage digital natives, we have to thoughtfully integrate technology into our curriculum that allows our students to use their digital backgrounds as the platform for their learning.

We are also responsible for preparing our students to live and work effectively in this digital age, and we simply cannot teach our students the skills they need to use without having them actually practice using those skills in our classrooms.

Back to the question of time and priorities. . .

So, yes, mastery of seamless integration of technology in the classroom is imperative today. Most educators I know are at least somewhat aware of the importance of integrating technology into their lessons. And many teachers do use computers, and doc cams and smart boards, and whatever else schools make available for them to use.

Are they using these tools effectively to meet the needs of their digital learners? The answer to that question seems to be left up to the individual teacher to figure out – and some teachers seem to be more in tune than others with the need to connect digitally with their students — and with the benefits of connecting digitally with them.

With so much at stake, we really do need to consider why teachers would not make learning about and using technology a priority in their lives.

As Powers states in his post, “we emphasize and focus on what’s important to us.”  Maybe the reason some teachers are not focusing their time and energy on learning about technology is because they still are not fully comfortable with using it.  Even though almost everyone uses technology in their daily lives, there may be teachers who feel intimidated by the idea of trying to squeeze it in to their lessons “on top of everything else.” These teachers may need help seeing how the integration of technology is not an add on, but an investment that can transform their teaching and actually help them.

In a post referred to by Powers, Steven Weber’s I Don’t Have Time points to Bill Ferriter’s idea of Flipping the Faculty Meeting  as a way for school leaders to set the tone and lead teachers to using technology through example.

Another idea I came across for helping more teachers integrate technology into their curriculum is explained by Mary Beth Hertz in her post Mentoring and Coaching for Effective Tech Integration. She says schools need  technology mentors as well as technology coaches to help teachers effectively integrate technology into their classes.

I like both of the ideas outlined in these posts, and the general idea Ferriter suggests about school principals using meetings and other opportunities to lead by example when it comes to integrating technology. Having teachers use technology for their own learning experiences and having them share with each other about it can get them excited about investing their time in learning to use technology in their classes. Principals can and should also tap into the resources they have, e.g., teachers at their schools who are technophiles and who enjoy and have seen the benefits of using technology in their classes, and develop them as mentors.

Those of us who do feel comfortable using technology could also make a concerted effort to reach out to other teachers by acting as mentors, starting a technology blog for our department or school, asking if we could post our blogs on the school website or teachers’ portal and then promoting our blog posts to others at our school via e-mail. We can start the conversation at our schools.

I do think that individuals are ultimately responsible for their learning, but just as we need to meet students where they are in our classrooms, school leaders, and those of us who are technophiles have to meet other teachers where they are, inspire them, and help them get to a point where they can take more ownership over their learning. Then, I think, we really will have a technological revolution in our schools.

How does your school motivate teachers to invest time in learning about and using new technologies? As a technophile teacher, how are you involved in this process?

Resources: Shelly, G., Gunter, G. & Gunter, R. (2012) Teachers discovering computers: Integrating technology in a connected world (7th ed.) Boston: Course Technology, Cengage Learning.

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The adventure begins . . .

Welcome to my blog and learning journal for EME5050! I have already learned so much in the first week of class.

The best (and hardest) part for me so far has been just going through the experience of learning how to do things like setting up a blog (seemed easy with so many templates available—until I actually had to do it!), and signing up for, and learning to use all of the other tools we’ll be working with to learn together throughout the course.

I am looking forward to learning and sharing ideas and reflections together with my classmates.

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