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Disrupting Class: How Disruptive Innovation Will Change the Way the World Learns

05/26/2010 8:30 AM Kresge
Michael B. Horn, Co"founder and Executive Director, Education, Innosight Institute

Description: Can a theory that explains why successful organizations fail and newcomers prevail help turn around America's public schools? Michael B. Horn describes how the idea of disruptive innovation, developed by management researcher and author Clayton M. Christensen, can provide a fresh perspective on struggling education systems, and perhaps offer some solutions.

Business history, Horn tells his audience, is littered with cases of unlikely triumphs, when a smaller firm vanquishes a large, well"established company by introducing a novel product or service. Christensen studied successive generations of business takedowns to produce his theory of disruptive innovation, explaining for instance, how Toyota toppled Ford, and why scrappy, garage"based personal computer makers ultimately felled minicomputer giants DEC and Wang. Christensen highlighted a common feature in these cases: the upstart did not roll out a breakthrough concept sweeping established consumers off their feet, but rather came out with a product or service that appealed to non"consumers -- offering something uniquely affordable, accessible, convenient or useful. Christensen suggested that if a business could identify and develop products for non"consumers, it could open up vast new markets, and sometimes transform an entire industry.

"This story of disruptive innovation repeats in a lot of fields," says Horn. With education, the question becomes how to apply disruption as a positive force, propagating new ideas that are relatively simple to adopt and that offer an inviting, student"centric alternative to the often tradition"bound processes of many school systems. Horn cites online learning as a disruptive innovation that has particular potential in education, especially when you consider the number of "non"consumption opportunities" that exist. Dropouts, home"schooled students, school commuters, incarcerated youth, tutoring, professional development, adult lifelong learning, are all areas with large groups of potential online users. And most students sitting in K"12 classrooms do not yet have available the range of benefits possible with online learning, from 24/7 access, to personalized education, rapid assessment and progress tracking.

Right now, schools do not seem fully prepared to exploit opportunities around disruptive innovation. Schools, like businesses, tend to stick to customary practices, even if it means becoming stuck in a rut. But Horn sees glimmers of change, as increasing numbers of students take courses online, video replaces text, and some mobile technology pops up in classrooms. He is optimistic in spite of the challenges. "We are just beginning a revolution in the ways we learn."

About the Speaker(s): Michael B. Horn is the coauthor of Disrupting Class: How Disruptive Innovation Will Change the Way the World Learns (McGraw"Hill: June 2008), with Harvard Business School Professor and bestselling author Clayton M. Christensen and Curtis W. Johnson, president of the Citistates Group. Among a number of honors, BusinessWeek named the book one of the 10 Best Innovation & Design Books of 2008.

Horn previously worked at America Online during its re"launch, and before that he served as David Gergen's research assistant, where he tracked and wrote about politics and public policy. Horn has written articles for numerous publications, including Education Week, Forbes, the Boston Globe, and U.S. News & World Report. In addition, he has contributed research for Charles Ellis' book, Joe Wilson and the Creation of Xerox (Wiley, 2006) and Barbara Kellerman's Bad Leadership: What It Is, How It Happens, Why It Matters (Harvard Business School Press, 2004).

Horn earned his M.B.A. from Harvard Business School and an A.B. from Yale University, where he graduated with distinction in History.

Host(s): School of Engineering, Learning International Networks Consortium

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MIT World — special events and lectures

MIT World — special events and lectures

Category: Events | Updated over 2 years ago

December 16, 2011 16:42
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