Coping with Disruptive Technology by Dean Cathy Sandeen

I just finished reading what I consider to be a brilliant research paper, an observational study of normative student behavior in a university library by a third-year psychology student at University of California Irvine. (Full disclosure: the author of the paper is my daughter.) Her key conclusions? Even during one of the most academically demanding weeks of the term, students spend large amounts of their time in the library on non-academic activities: listening to music, responding to text or instant messages, non-academic surfing the internet, and viewing Facebook, Twitter, and other social networking sites.

These findings illustrate a trend that should be obvious to us all. Technology has altered the way we live, work, play, and learn. Moreover—and here’s the challenge—technology continues to evolve and change rapidly.

I just read an interesting article in the Southwest Airlines in-flight magazine, called Last TechThe article listed a large number of long-standing, highly-used inventions that have recently faded away. The typewriter, road map, drinking fountain, hotel room key, for example, have been replaced—as have the individuals who made, used, or repaired these various devices. 

Photo from Southwest Spirit magazine, March 2010

Clayton Christensen coined the phrase disruptive innovation,” one new innovation that quickly displaces another.

Building on Christensen’s work, Scott McLeod has an interesting talk on Teaching and Learning in and Era of Disruptive Technology.  McLeod argues that today’s workforce requires a range of new skills and abilities, different from those required in the industrial era, as depicted in this graphic from his presentation. I agree. 

McLeod also offered the following slide illustrating how our current educational system is based on educating the workforce for the industrial age, not the digital and creative age.

It is a fundamental dilemma—not easily addressed. I am interested in your thoughts on this issue. How do we balance educating the workforce of the future within existing structure and institutions, preserving those elements of traditional education that have served us so well in the past?  Is educating a competitive workforce of the future a matter of adaptive change, or is revolutionary change needed?



6 responses to “Coping with Disruptive Technology by Dean Cathy Sandeen

  1. Hi Cathy,
    Thanks to your stellar example of blogging about education (a field close to my heart too) I recently jumped in and blogged about two reports, “Skills of the American Workforce Report, Tough Choices for Tough Times” and “Transforming American Education: Learning Powered by Technology, National Educational Technology Plan 2010″. These two go hand-in-hand and underscore the plight of education in the US. The workforce report sheds light on the economic impact of our failing educational achievements and the “Transforming American Education” 2010 lays out an ambitious, yet fundamental, step to righting the US education system.

    Central to the plan is making good on the “digital promise” (made in 2008) by an “always on” infrastructure connecting all users to technology (broadband), information, mentors and peers for an immersive learning environment. The report emphasizes the importance of learning outcomes while uprooting the need to follow worn-out basic assumptions created back in the 1800’s –“seat time” equates to learning , and like-aged students should be placed together. This comprehensive report turns over outdated approaches and solidly embraces blended, 24/7 teaching and learning. “Open, immersive and always on” appears to be the education motto of 2010 and beyond.

    BUT what does this mean in terms of implementation? I don’t know if we have stirred the political and societal will to fund education at a level that supports our needs let alone our ambitions. Yet, with minds like Alan Kay, the inventor of the user interface (GUI) and ARPANET the predecessor of the internet, we may have a chance! Alan presented at the TED conference in 2007 on the topic of investing. Alan quoting Marshall McLuhan, who said “children are the message we send to the future”, makes a case for a new era for children’s education. Alan highlights the gap between children in need of instruction and learning and the mentors to guide them. He suggests that with the budget equivalent of 18 minutes of the cost of the Iraq war, 100 million dollars, a new evolution of GUI will be built and replace the need of mentors. Alan illustrates the positive role computers and well-designed, intuitive software plays in children making meaning. The one laptop for every child initiative started by Nicholas Negroponte coupled with an ultra intuitive GUI built by Kay may well break the mold of instruction forged hundreds of years ago, sage on stage, in favor of the guide on the side. But in this new model the guide on the side may just be on the other side of the world.

    Adaptive or revolutionary? I think we are headed for transformative change where the individual is central to the change equation. This would fit with the guide on the side model and amateur scholarship model called out in the 08 Horizon Report. This may be semantics at play, but I sense change will come more from the individual influencing and being influenced by our increasingly webbed life.


  2. Dean Sandeen, thanks for plugging my online presentation about disruptive innovation!

    Here’s another one (my TEDxASB talk) that may interest you and/or your readers:

  3. Yes, see you in SF in a couple of weeks. I hope you are presenting. Best, Beth

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