These are my notes from the closing keynote at the 2009 CoSN conference, “Disrupting Class: How Disruptive Innovation Will Change the Way the World Learns,” presented by Dr. Clayton M. Christensen (via video) and Michael Horn (in person.) MY COMMENTS AND THOUGHTS ARE IN ALL CAPS. I WAS ABLE TO MEET AND VISIT BRIEFLY WITH MICHAEL PRIOR TO THE KEYNOTE. I WAS THRILLED TO LEARN THAT HE KNOWS ABOUT THE K-12 ONLINE CONFERENCE!

Michael Horn and Wesley Fryer

ON MY DRIVE DOWN TO AUSTIN FROM OKLAHOMA, I LISTENED TO THE LATEST SEEDLINGS @ BIT BY BIT PODCAST FROM MARCH 6TH, WHICH FEATURED AN INTERVIEW WITH MICHAEL HORN ABOUT THE BOOK AND IT’S KEY IDEAS. I HIGHLY COMMEND IT TO YOU, AS WELL AS “DISRUPTING CLASS: HOW DISRUPTIVE INNOVATION WILL CHANGE THE WAY THE WORLD LEARNS,” THE BOOK WHICH IS THE FOCUS OF THIS KEYNOTE. I JOIN OTHERS IN MY OPINION THAT IT IS ONE OF THE MOST IMPORTANT BOOKS WHICH HAS BEEN WRITTEN ABOUT EDUCATION IN SEVERAL YEARS.

We saw the “Learning to Change, Changing to Learn – Student Voices” video at the start of the closing plenary session

21,000 messages generated in February 2009 alone from the Ed Tech Action Network (ETAN) focused on the stimulus package

Dr Christensen is sharing a presentation at Vanderbilt University today, and was going to join us at the end of this session for Q&A, but that is not working out schedule-wise.
- is the author or co-author of six books

From Christensen’s video
- you have a critical role to play in the next several years in our schools

INTERESTING HE SAID “NEXT SEVERAL YEARS,”

being a professor is my 2nd career
- I founded and ran an advanced materials company with some other professors at MIT
- a puzzle had emerged in my head as I grew my country: why is success so difficult to sustain? Why do some companies which were on top at one point, end up at the bottom?
- the principles of good management which we teach at the Harvard Business School sow the seeds of failure for these companies
- several years some leaders from the school reform movement brought a request to me: Problems our schools face issues related to innovation
- asked me to look at school problems and challenges through the lens of innovation
- this is what we’d like to summarize for you today in our remarks

I will begin by showing you a diagram of “Sustaining and Disruptive Innovations”
- there are two trajectories of improvement (x axis is time, y axis is performance)
- first: in every market there is a trajectory of improvement which customers can utilize
- there is a distribution: there are some customers that will never be satisfied, others that can be easily satisfied

technological progress almost always outstrips the ability of customers to utilize or leverage

Remember Intel’s 286? It often couldn’t keep up with your fingers
- Intel kept introducing new chips, 3 GHz chip a few years ago went beyond the processing power most customers needed

some advances in technologies are real breakthroughs
- move to optical signaling was an example

what we find was the purpose of both trajectories (incremental and radical) are designed to sustain the same direction of the company
- we found the same companies in these battles with sustaining technologies, figured out a way to do it and stay on top

there was another technology which vexed the leaders: we call that a “disruptive technology”
- we chose that word not because it was a dramatic breakthrough, but instead of making a better product perform better, it brought a simpler, more affordable and not nearly as good product to the market
- at the beginning of a market: products are complicated and expensive
- a disruptive technology makes them affordable and accessible (also simpler)

so now our graph has a new plane of competition
- initially it competes against non-consumption
- working on my PhD I remember using a multi-million dollar computer with punch cards
- personal computer revolutionized this
- at the start, it was just simple things, and the mainframe center still did the complex stuff
- as the PC got better, one by one what we had to do on the mainframe could go to the PC (out of the back, into the front)
- until eventually, every manufacturer of mainframe and mini-computers were out

incumbents were killed off

Watching Digital Equipment Corporation collapse was part of the puzzle for me in the 1980s
- was the most widely admired company in the world economy
- success was attributed to the quality of the management team
- the stumbling of the company in the press was attributed to the management team
- I wondered how the same management team could get so stupid so fast? This is a common rationale to use

Every mini-computer company in the world collapsed at the same time: this suggests it was not management
- they didn’t “collude to collapse”

Those kinds of computers don’t exist any more
- they were mini-computers because they weren’t mainframes
- still as big as
- cost $250K to buy
- lots of training, service
- lots of related costs

Digital had to generate about 45% profit margin on computers that sold for $250K to be profitable

THIS IS AN INTERESTING STORY TO BE SURE. THE KEY FOR THIS AUDIENCE IS CONNECTING THIS TO SCHOOLS AND SHOWING HOW THE CONNECTION OF THIS TREND TO EDUCATION IS RELEVANT.

Management at that time could see the PCs out the window
- but they also saw how poor the quality was initially
- Apple sold the Apple II as a toy to children
- the PC didn’t matter to their customers at first
- management had to make a choice: make better products that we can

we teach in business schools that you should always listen to your best customers, always focus on the products that give you the best profit margins
- but when a disruptive innovation emerges (defined as we have here) those principles of good management paralyze good companies and make it almost impossible for them to address these opportunities which Michael is going to address with you.

Now a listing of companies who have gotten to their position of leadership through disruption:
- Ford
- Dept Stores
- Digital Equipment
- Delta
- State universities
- Xerox
- IBM
- Cullinet
- AT&T
- General hospitals
- Sony DiskMan

Today:
- Toyota (came in at the bottom of the market with the Corona, to the Tercel, to the Corolla, then eventually to Camery / Avalon … they didn’t start with the Lexus)

Who is killing Toyota
- look at the bottom of their market at the Koreans, at the subcompacts
- not because they are asleep, but because why would they invest in the least profitable part of their market (low end)

Others today:
- Toyota
- Wal-Mart
- Dell
- Southwest Airlines
- Common Colleges
- more…

Cell phones are disrupting now

Apple doesn’t feel they are being disruptive but they are

[END OF VIDEO OF DR. CHRISTENSEN]

Prior to this Michael worked at AOL
- worked with David Gergan as his research assistant also
- his full bio from the CoSN program:

I walk through a couple more models from the research on innovation
- I am sure a lot of you are asking: how does this apply to my school or the district I am leading?
- we will get there, I promise!

What is the natural instinct of an organization when a disruptive innovation is coming
- think back to the days of vacuum tubes
- 1947: Bell Labs invented the transistor, solid-state electronics
- companies took a license to it, and started doing R&D on it and framed it as a technology problem
- they seemed to think if they spent enough money perfecting the technology, they could swap it into their products

I AM WONDERING IF LED BULBS AND PROJECTORS REPRESENT A DISRUPTIVE TECHNOLOGY

RCA spent over $1 billion in today’s dollars to make this swap into the existing products
- this was trying to “cram” the transistor into their existing way of serving customers

1952: so first application for the transistor appeared in the hearing aide
- didn’t require much power
- at got better year over year

1955 a company no one thought much of, Sony, introduced the pocket transistor radio
- it was pretty crummy as it initially existed
- Clay jokes that he grew up in Utah and had to face west to get a good signal at that time
- this was a blessing for the low end of the market (lots of teenagers who couldn’t afford tabletop radios
- they were thrilled with it relative to the alternative: nothing at all

4 years later, the portable TV came out
- Sony made its beachhead even more
- made a profit, re-invested profits
- at some point the TV became good enough that tabletop radios and floor-standing TVs just vaporized / disappeared

You can really see that RCA saw the disruptive innovation, licensed it, invested money trying to perfect it it
- they never got it: Sony went on to change the world, while RCA got left behind
- RCA didn’t change its model

Another theory from our research: there are 2 types of service architectures

1- very interdependent
- the way 1 part works depends upon others
- so if you hope to built 1 part, you have to build it all
- initially in a market you
- tradeoff: interdependent architectures compel standardization

example: think of Microsoft Windows
- lines of code work in very interdependent ways

2- modular architecture
- allows us to plug and play best of breed components

I AM THINKING OF K-12 ONLINE AS I LISTEN TO THIS AND THINKING ABOUT PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT: THE FUTURE IS CUSTOMIZED PD. ELEMENTS FROM THE CONFERENCE NEED TO BE SHARED IN THIS SAME WAY. AS DIGITAL OBJECTS.

another way to think of this: Dell personal computers
- I assume many of you are using Dell computers, you haven’t switched to Macs like I have?
- Dell is very modular: so you can pick and choose the elements you want in each PC
- 24-48 hours, Dell builds it for you and ships it to you
- modularity makes it customizable

What does this mean for schools?
1- Conflicting mandates in the way we teach vs the way we learn (and the way we test)
2- Computers have failed to make a difference because we have crammed them into conventional classrooms (they must initially be deployed against non-consumptions)
3- Individualized computer-based instruction requires a disruptive distribution model
4- Separation is critical. Chartered schools should be seene as heavyweight teams, not disruptive competitors.
5- We have imposed disruption on our schools three times in recent history by moving the goalposts: the metrics of improvement
6- Education research has not shown the way forward

New research shows that giftednewss is very fluid
We acknowledge that Howard Gardner’s model is not perfect of multiple intelligences

We all learn differently
- no one disagrees about us having different paces of learning

Ongoing cognitive science research
- fMRI scans – Shally Seyworth’s (?) work on dyslexia
- this reveals a great deal, but they are a bit like studying a baseball game from 2 blocks away from the stadium (I can hear the crowd noise when someone scores, and I know when the game is over when everyone leads, but I don’t really understand baseball as a game)
- this is a good metaphor for where we are in cognitive neuroscience today

Lots of research in practice now
- Scientific Learning (product “fastboard”)
- Universal Design for Learning/CAST
- K12, Inc.

takeway from all this: we don’t know the differences right now, but we DO know we all learn differently

so if we know that, we might expect that schools would give us different learning opportunities
- we know from our own experiences this isn’t the reality at all
- think about your own Algebra classes, World History classes

Why do we do this, if we as educators know that children learn very differently
- that is because of the highly interdependent architecture of schools, which makes it very expensive to customize learning opportunities

temporal interdependencies: pre-requisities

lateral interdpendencies

physical interdependencies: often classroom layout inhibits problem-based learning (PBL) for example

hierarchical interdependencies

bottom line: drives us toward standardization
- look at how much it costs to create an IEP for a special education student
- 2 to 3 times more on average
- some of you might admit in some cases you’re not doing the full IEP which the student needs because it is too expensive

So our question: how can we migrate to a modular system twhich can be customized, which is truly student-centric

One idea we had is to move much of the learning to computers, for computer-based learning which permits students to have different paces
- this brings up a mystery: we’ve had computers well over 3 decades, for the last 2 decades we’ve been spending wildly on them, but they have not transformed the classroom at all
- are computers for basic word processing, a presentation, or some internet research, or a computer lab to learn keyboarding

Larry Cuban has written a lot about this
- schools have done just what we’d expect them to do in the face of this disruptive model: cramming computers

Where would these areas of non-consumption be in our schools, where schooling is compulsive in the U.S.
lots of areas
- credit recovery
- drop outs
- advanced placement and other advanced courses
- scheduling conflicts
- home-schooled and homebound students
- small, rural, and urban schools
- tutoring
- professional development
- pre-K
- after school
- in the home
- incarcerated youth
- in-school suspension

25% of high schools don’t offer an advanced course (above Algebra II, basic biology, or ….)

Looming budget cuts and teacher shortages are an opportunity, not a threat

School boards have been moving “up-market” to focus limited resources in the “new” trajectory of improvement

graph of time on x axis, importance of the program on y axis
- German
- Statistics
- Psychology
- Economics
- Math
- Science
- English language and literature

so now let students go to computer-based learning, compete against non-consumption

online learning is growing very fast now in traditional disruptive style
- follows an S curve
- there is a way to predict where we are on the S curve by plotting the percentage of the market

This means for online learning, where we
- 45,000 in 2000
- 1 million enrollments in 2007
- grew over 30% last year

by 2019 50% of all HS courses will be offered online
- so changes are coming relatively fast

44 states have some form of online learning setup
- 25 states have supplemental state-led programs

IN OKLAHOMA OUR STATE DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION IS ON THE VERGE OF ADVANCING PROPOSALS FOR VIRTUAL LEARNING, I THINK

4 of the programs have over 10,000 enrollments
- over a quarter of them grew over 50%

Policy implications of this (which are not in the book)

What can states do (THIS IS PERHAPS THE MOST IMPORTANT PART OF THIS PRESENTATION, VERY PRACTICAL)
- schools can create Autonomous units
- self-sustaining funding
- not beholden by the old metrics
– seat time –> mastery
– student: teacher ration
– teacher certification (teacher being a facilitator, mentor, and coach)
- human resources pipeline and professional development
- treatment and use of data (you can get a very good contextual, whole sense of the student)

schools and states can do these things to unleash the force in these trends and potentials

just like Amazon.com can recommend a book for you, those same technologies can be used for student learning

Clay’s new book: “The Innovator’s Prescription” just came out 5 weeks ago
- we have not put these new learning models into business models

this is really a new technology meets a new business model meets a new value chain
- new models can be more affordable

true Southwest Airlines has been very disruptive, operating according to a different model

Elliot Sollway question:
- you’ve painted a dichotomy between traditional schools and online schools with kids on the computer: why does that have to be, why can’t the egg crates give the customization the kids want and the teachers want to give, and not be RCA

Michael’s answer:
- core message of the Innovator’s Dilemma in 1997 is if you all do what we expect you to do, you are dead
- next book Innovator’s Dilemma gave an answer: how the incumbants could change if they leadership has the vision to lead the change
- the reason we wrote the book: we called it “disrupting class” and not “disrupting school”
- still custodial and socialization roles for schools to play

lots of distance learning is taking place with teacher involvement and intervention
- local teachers can sweep in and help
- much more rewarding for teachers, human 1:1 interaction
- my conception of the ultimate disruption: schools will look much more like community centers, will be much more open
- instruction is not always online
- sometimes going off to do something physical
- much more fluid: bell schedules rethought and perhaps extinguished
- I am wary of putting a definitive vision on this, those people are almost always wrong

Another question: most people here are from schools, not state governments
- so how do school districts reinvent themselves for disruptive innovations

Answer: we are using multiple case studies now looking at this
- pushing states to break out of these old metrics
- we have a voice and leadership at the state level
- districts that have seen declining enrollments have setup their own online schools to recoup some enrollments
- some have setup schools for dropouts
- start seeking out these opportunities
- if you are just pointing to Florida Virtual School, you are still limiting student options

I THINK THIS POINTS TO VERY IMPORTANT WORK WE NEED TO DO ON DIGITAL PORTFOLIOS, SHARED CURRICULUM ON PROJECTS LIKE CURRIKI, AND WORK ON ASSESSMENT: FORMATIVE, ONGOING, AS WELL AS SUMMATIVE.

This has been a very rewarding for us, thanks!

MICHAEL NEEDS TO SETUP A FACEBOOK SITE FOR THIS PROJECT, LIKE DON TAPSCOTT DISCUSSED WITH US YESTERDAY!

WE HAVE GOT TO STOP THE MADNESS WHEN IT COMES TO OUR CURRENT, MYOPIC FOCUS ON SUMMATIVE ASSESSMENTS. WE HAVE TOO MANY SMART PEOPLE IN OUR NATION AND WORLD TO CONTINUE FOLLOWING THE DESTRUCTIVE AND COUNTER-PRODUCTIVE PATH WE HAVE FOLLOWED OF LATE WITH HIGH-STAKES TESTING AND ACCOUNTABILITY. LOTS OF GREAT IDEAS HERE TO REFLECT ON FURTHER AND APPLY.

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  • http://constructingmodernknowledge.com Gary S. Stager, Ph.D.

    It’s worthwhile pointing your readers to Dr. Andrew Zucker’s critical analysis of the “Disrupting Class” book – http://www.concord.org/publications/detail/2008_DisruptingClass_WhitePaper.pdf

    Not everyone believes that it is the most important book in many years or even accurate.

  • http://www.wesfryer.com Wesley Fryer

    Thanks for the link Gary, I’ll check out Dr. Zucker’s white paper.

  • http://www.innosightinstitute.org Michael B. Horn

    Thanks for your post, Wes. I really enjoyed meeting you — and you captured quite a bit of the information from our presentation nicely! There is a Facebook group up for Disrupting Class, but I’m sure we could benefit from doing more to continue to learn.

    To the next comment, Andy Zucker’s piece is interesting. I’ve spoken to him after he wrote his piece, and, as you’ll see from my comments on his blog prior to that conversation, I don’t think we disagree quite as much as he painted. For example, as you know Wes–and as I thought the book articulated in its end vision–hybrid-learning environments I think will be the future for most students. Also, he makes a big deal out of saying that we are wrong for saying that the way schools have implemented technology has been perfectly predictable, logical, and wrong. He takes that out of context from the rest of the tone of the book, but in general, to understand this sentence, it must be understood that we are saying that if the goal is to transform education from the monolithic batch-mode we currently have to a far more student-centric experience, then the implementation of technology largely has not done this, even though it has that potential. The point of our book is not to be an education technology book (he also says we are utopian about technology, but given our criticism of it in many cases and insistence that it’s not technology for technology’s sake, that strikes me as odd). It’s more a book about how to bring about a transformation of education to a student-centric system; technology happens to play a big role, although there are many more elements that are important as well.

  • http://edtech-nohype.blogspot.com Joe Makley

    I very much enjoyed Michael’s webinar for the ISTE’s SIGAdmin book group recently. It’s archived at https://admin.acrobat.com/_a729309453/p14216079/ The charts went a little slow for me on the dead tree version, but his live explanations were very helpful. I do think “Disrupting Class” is very important, (especially the distinction between “online” and “distant,” which helps conventional large-school principals comprehend how it might happen.) It’s also a very accurate description of the K-12 dilemma.

    I too had a quibble with the blanket statement about “billions spent to no effect.” First, the amount hasn’t been very high if you figure it in dollars per student or include the fact that it has largely been implemented by amateurs and vendors at less than a fifth of the cost that any reliable consultant outside K-12 would have said was needed. (Staffing levels still defy any practical notion of supporting the infrastructure.) Secondly, individualization was not the primary goal of most of the expenditures. Computers have been much more useful than typewriters, and both have contributed a great deal to employment for millions of young people. Today’s job interviews still often ask for application skills, which schools have provided very solidly for 20 years (not transformational, no, but aligned with the instructional goals and tech expenses of K-12 in the late 20th century.)

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