This week, Michael Horn, the co-founder and Executive Director of Innosight Institute, discussed the growth and development of disruptive technologies like online learning in education at the Washington Education Innovation Forum, hosted by Robin Lake, in Seattle, Wash.

Horn says, disruptive innovation transforms a field by making products and services simpler, convenient and affordable. For example, the personal computer began as a clunky, expensive technology that was sparsly used on the market. Yet, in the span of a lifetime, it transformed into s smaller, affordable and widely used device that has been adopted by nearly every industry on the market. According to Horn this process of disruption equals affordability and accessibility.

Today in education, there’s countless areas of non-consumption or lack of uptake of disruptive technologies in education. Some of these include just-in-time professional development, electronic textbooks, online learning and more. For example, online learning could be used to help students graduate college and drive down the national drop out rate.

According to Horn, online learning is a widely disruptive force in higher education. In fact says Horn, “39 states have some form of online learning initiative, following the pattern of disruptive innovation.” Disruptive innovation has historically followed a curve that shows the rate of innovation and adoption over time. (View image to the left.)

The reasons why online learning is dramatically innovating the classroom include its ability to offer:

  • Personalized learning
  • Differenciated learning
  • Increased content quality
  • Engaging content (game-based learning), and
  • Advanced courses.
Significant research over the last few decades have pointed to students different learning styles. Currently, the factory model of education forces us toward standardized learning. “Our school system should customize to [students’] different needs, but it’s not the reality at all,” says Horn. Online learning can help provide lessons and learning specific to each student’s learning style.

He adds that not only is our school system made to produce results irrelevant to today’s society and needs, but the policies in place prohibit the growth of effective disruptive technologies like online learning. For example Horn says, seat time measures the wrong end of the student. We need to move beyond a focus on inputs and instead look at successful outcomes for each, individual student.

For more, read Tom Vander Ark’s article “Parents Promote Disruptive Innovation” on Getting Smart. Also, join the conversation on Twitter with the hashtag #innovateWAed.

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