Disruptive Innovation in Education part 3

In the book, Disrupting Class, the authors spend some time defining a “disruptive innovation.” This theory has been around since it was first printed in articles and books in 1997. As the graph below illustrates, a regular product or service gradually improves, which is termed a “sustaining innovation.” Over time, the company learns what their customers want and make these improvements on the product. So, the customers continue to purchase the product or service. Over time, there is gradual growth in the company. However, from time to time, a “disruptive innovation” emerges that challenges that standard product or service. A disruptive innovation is a product or service that existing customers have not been able to consume or afford. The disruptive innovation is NOT a breakthrough improvement of the old product or service, but it brings to the market “a product or service that actually is not as good as what companies had been selling”. By making the product affordable and simple to use, the disruptive innovation benefits different customers. Over time, the original product or service is influenced by the disruptive innovation and has to change or it will be eliminated. One example from the book is the Digital Equipment Corporation or DEC who manufactured the first “minicomputer” in the 1970s which did not fill an entire room. They were the leading producers of minicomputers until Apple came along and produced the Apple IIe which was first marketed to children as a toy. We all know this story…Apple, and then others, created a better personal computer that was smaller, cheaper and easier to use than what DEC had been producing. “What is disruptive to one company is sustaining to another.”

(Graph from Wikipedia, a disruptive innovation in itself)

So, how does this apply to education? First, the authors needed to define the product or service of education. According to the authors, the jobs of education are:

  • Preserve the Democracy and Inculcate democratic values
  • Provide something for every student
  • Keep America competitive
  • Eliminate poverty

What do you think, are these the jobs of education?

Part 4 tomorrow – “computers and schools.”

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