What I’m reading: Disrupting Class

Over the past year or so, I had the honor of serving as an American Council on Education (ACE) Fellow. ACE is the nation’s premier umbrella organization representing all sectors of higher education, and the fellowship is a sort of mid-career internship for higher education leaders.  During the year I made time to catch up on my reading. (My blog posts took somewhat of a backseat, you may have noticed.)

 One book I found particularly compelling was Disrupting Class: How disruptive innovation will change the way the work learns by Clayton M. Christensen, Michael B. Horn, and Curtis W. Johnson.  Christensen has written about innovation and disruptive technology in other industries. This book applies his theories to K-12 education. It’s a refreshing “outsiders” view.

 Christensen argues the current educational system is based on an industrial, mass production, assembly line model where we assume every student can master the same material in the same way. Christensen provides a compelling argument for a new disruptive model:

  • Customized learning that adapts to an individual student’s pace and style of learning
  • Student-centered classrooms that employ technology
  • Teachers as facilitative “guides on the side”
  • Students engaged in learning and feeling successful about their learning

 Christensen predicts that disruptive educational innovation may emerge in the form of grassroots online tutoring tools:  “ . . . these tools will spread in popularity very quickly, and exchanges will emerge through with this user-generated content can be offered to others for free or for a fee.” (p. 130)

Christensen draws an analogy to the pharmaceutical industry’s direct-to-patient advertising. Patients are doing their own web research about conditions and treatments and are “’pulling’ the solution from their doctors after they’ve made a preliminary diagnosis themselves” (p. 139).

 “The analogous case in education is that historically, because they haven’t known of the existence of remedies for learning problems, students and their families typically put up with poor grades and the low self-esteem spawned by feeling stupid. [New] facilitated networks will be designed to help students and their families diagnose why they’re finding it so difficult to master a subject and then find their own solution. Just as in health care, students and their families will not wait for their teaching professionals to prescribe a ‘therapy.’ They will pull the solution out of the facilitated network themselves” (p. 139).

 Eventually, the public will expect, even demand, similar solutions in the classroom.

 This very brief description just scratches the surface of the many insights in Disrupting Class. I recommend this book for anyone interested in educational reform.  (And who isn’t?)

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