Thursday, October 09, 2008

Disruptive Learning

Learned a new phrase today - disruptive innovation and how that would impact the classrooms of the future. Here is how the article describes it :

A disruptive innovation is not a breakthrough improvement. Instead of sustaining the leading companies' place in the original market, it disrupts that trajectory by offering a product or service that actually is not as good as that which companies are already selling. Because it is not as good as the existing product or service, the customers in the original market cannot use it. Instead, the disruptive innovation extends its benefits to people who, for one reason or another, are unable to consume the original product -- so-called nonconsumers.

Disruptive innovations tend to be simpler and more affordable than existing products. This feature allows them to take root in simple, undemanding applications within a new market or arena of competition. Little by little, disruptions predictably improve. At some point, disruptive innovations become good enough to handle more complicated problems -- and then they take over and supplant the old way of doing things.

While the article focuses on the role of technology is creating such disruptions in the classroom, to "supplant the old way of doing things" but when it comes to education there can be drivers other than technology. It could be a maverick teacher who challenges the establishment and have technology enable her ability to do so. The Accelerated Reading program comes to mind as I write this. There the mix of the right intent, incentives and technology and yet the typical implementation in the classroom leaves much to be desired. Reading a Harry Potter book and taking quiz on the story could earn a kid up to 40 points depending on grade level whereas the unabridged Jules Verne novel notches up only a 20 at the same grade level.

The calibration is wrong in more ways that I care to catalog but the most glaring glitch is the fact that the Potter books have been made into movies that the average kid has watched many times over. How hard is it to wing the quiz just skimming through the book. The incentive is right but applied to the wrong thing can result in more negative than positive outcomes.

Kids will learn to cut corners to reading in this case and they will not develop an appreciation for literature that has stood the test of time. Instead of becoming prolific readers as the program doubtless aims, they would become proficient test takers with no abiding love for the literary. So no matter how disruptive a technology is put into play, in the wrong hands the results will be iffy at best and disappointing at worst.

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