Monday, July 6, 2009

Disrupting Class

I have just finished reading Disrupting Class by Clayton Christensen, Michael Horn and Curtis Johnson and just wanted to do a quick post about the book.

Christensen is a famed professor at Harvard Business School and the author of The Innovator's Dilemma. In The Innovator's Dilemma, Christensen describes disruption theory and its effect on the business world, innovation and entrepreneurship. In Disrupting Class Christensen et al. outline how disruption theory can be applied to the US K-12 educational system.

To summarize the book: Christensen puts forward a compelling case on how Technology Enhanced Learning is a disruptive technology which will completely change how we think of education - for the better, allowing for student-centric learning. For more information on disruptive technology or innovation see the wikipedia article at

Although the potential power of technology in education is not new for anyone working in the area, how technology can be integrated into education to have maximum effect is something which we have struggled with for many year. Christensen believes the answer to this is where education technology sneaks up on the traditional educational sector as a disruptive technology.

The book starts by looking at how everyone is different and how all students learn in different ways. This is demonstrating through very clear and relevant examples. The book stops short of defining the different ways people learn, but just states everyone learns in a different way. The book uses Harvard Psychologist, Howard Gardner, classification of knowledge. Christensen advocates that education must be aligned to a persons brain "wiring" for learning to be effective. Also, within each knowledge type a person will learn better when a particular learning style is used. In order to cater for all students, every course would have to be customised along these dimensions (not to mention lesson pace). This is expensive, and a barrier to student-centric learning.

Christensen also outlines the characteristics of a disruptive pattern and what that means to the educational system. According to disruptive theory, if Christensen is right, by 2019 50% of all high school courses will be delivered using e-learning technologies. Christensen also believes we are just about to witness major uptake in e-learning in the educational sector. All of these conclusions are based on his disruption theory.

The book also looks at the outer limits of the educational system to see what else needs to be considered when looking at e-learning and how to maximize its effect on education. In chapter six the book looks at the astounding effect a child's first 24 months of life have on the rest of its intellectual life. Chapter seven looks at educational research and why it wont satisfy to allow for an acceptable predictability of the effects of an instructional approach given a specific educational scenario.

In chapter eight the book goes on to look at how change can happen. To do this the degree of agreement among people in an organisation must be plotted on two axis 1) The extent to which people agree on what they want and 2) the extent to which people agree on cause and effect. Where an organisation lies in relation to these two axis determines the best tools to use to invoke change in an organisation. The following chapter then looks at how the schools should be structured to allow for change. Examples are drawn from industry, for example the change required in Toyota to build a hybrid car.

A very good book, well written and thought-provoking. It outlines a feasible methodology that could allow for technology to empower human teachers become facilitator and coaches in the class room, where learning will be student-centric. I would have liked to see a bit more on the role of teachers in this new environment. The book concentrates on high school and primary school education, I would like to see a book for higher education and beyond.

The book is available from at

1 comment:

MHorn said...

Good review of our book -- I think you summarized it well. A few thoughts... 1) I agree with you that an omission in the book was discussing more how the role of teachers will change, what that means for professional development and so forth. We're learning more about that and as we do further research will publish it at This is definitely a conversation; the book is not "the" answer by any means.
2) I also agree -- moving into higher education would be a smart move. We've done a fair amount of writing about this on our blog and in a few articles published in various places, but we need much more thought put to it, as the interdependencies of the K-12 and higher ed system are many.
3) Since we've written the book, it's been fascinating to see how much online learning truly has been growing and just as we predicted for the most part. A big revelation. We still need to push it to be ever-more student-centric.