The following is a paste-in of a posting I made to the ISED-Ning, contributing there to an on-line discussion about the significance of this new book, authored by Harvard Business School innovation guru Clayton Christensen (co-authors Michael Horn and Curtis Johnson). The book’s subtitle is “How Disruptive Innovation Will Change the Way the World Learns,” and the thesis is that within 10 years, 50% of all credit coursework in public high schools will occur via on-line coursework, and within 15 years, 80% will.

The book provides a compelling case for why, and how, this will come about, and sometimes seems to be as much (or more) about the mechanics of this process, (“disruptive innovation”) as about the content of the change. The mechanics are important, as is the warning that it is very difficult, nearing on impossible he would seem to say, for industry leaders to themselves adopt and effectively implement disruptive innovations– they have to come from upstarts.

Entirely aligned with much of the ideas under discussion in this blog, the book advocates for “student-centric classrooms,” and believes, and makes the case for, how technology in general, and on-line learning software in particular, will better serve the cause of student-centric learning.

Below is my response, from the ISED Ning discussion:

1. Loved the short reference in Christensen to the other best book of the year, Wagner’s Global Achievement Gap– glad that these two important works are in some sync with each other. (page 70, ch. 2, footnote 25)

2. I think most all of us on this site appreciate the underlying emphasis in Christensen that we continue to accelerate toward student-centric learning, and seek to employ technology always in this way– center learning with students first, deploy technology to serve that purpose second.

3. As much as I appreciate the significance of the argument that disruptive innovation cannot occur from within the industry, I refuse to accept this as insurmountable: we nonetheless need to seek to square this circle. I read the book to say that Cisco, for instance, has found ways to create within their own company this kind of disruptive innovation, partly because the did so consciously, embracing Christensen’s wisdom. And even if you told me he says it has only happened from outside, I am unwilling to surrender and say we, the industry leader, shouldn’t even try.

4. I think it would be fascinating to convene an envisioning panel– independent schools in a Christensen 2018- what do they look like? What does a day, a week, a year look like at an NAIS school ten and fifteen years from now? And then, having begun to fill out that picture, we need to ask and determine what is the value proposition to this school?

5. I’d guess that in this picture, most of the learning that happens now in teacher-monolithic learning, anything that kids learn now by lecture or textbook or workbook, (which is maybe, let’s say, 70% of time-on-task) currently– most or all of this will happen via sophisticated on-line learning. And that will be a very good thing– it will occur better that way than how it happens now. And among our our value propositions in this new Christensen learning environment will be that we have the best physical environments, best teacher-facilitators, best student peer-group collaborators, best technology, and the highest expectations for this kind of learning. (It may be too we will reap value from larger student-teacher ratios, in that we no longer need hire teachers for the 4 student AP Arabic section that we do currently).

6. These preceding, however, will not be enough. I would suggest that the most significant value proposition for us will be in how effectively we orchestrate learning in the areas that don’t happen now in lecture, textbook, or workbook, and won’t and to a large extent can’t happen in 2018 or 2023 via on-line lessons. It is the stuff of the other thirty percent of current time-on-task student learning, and what we ought to move to become 50%+ of student learning time in this new era. It is rich hands-on experiential learning, it is science labs writ large, where students design their own experiments to solve authentic real-world problems. It is art and architecture studios where students create and design to real-world specs. It is publishing student on-line literary journals and investigative journalism. It is “authentically doing” learning. It is the oral history project at Urban School (CA), and the construct an airplane project at Athenian. It is student drama productions that are presented to the wider region as “real theater.” I think we all recognize that a huge proportion of true and lasting student learning happen in these ways, and I just think that few of these, little of the substance here, is really replicable in on-line learning.

7. How do we get there? Very quickly, every NAIS high school needs to dedicate staff time to on-line learning support for our students, and we should do what I think it is Michigan is doing and actually require for graduation that every student earn at least one course credit via an on-line class. (This makes so much sense anyway– if we are teaching students to become life-long learners, and we had better be, and we know that a huge proportion of their post-collegiate learning will be via on-line course work, then we should “teach” them now to learn on-line). As students get in the habit of taking on-line courses, their demand will increase– and they will ask for them more and more in two areas: the areas that we cannot staff due to our small size, and the in the areas where our teachers are teaching in monolithic manners. We will “have” to accommodate their demand (and reap some savings in the process), and our teachers will quickly recognize that to keep students in their classes, they will need to re-structure learning in ways that students recognize and appreciate are unattainable on-line. It will have to be active, engaged, creative learning; learning by doing; learning by solving real-world problems; learning in rich, real-time, interpersonal collaboration. It will be great.

Call me too optimistic, but I think this is win-win in just about every way. It does demand that we get better, quickly, at delivering this kind of student learning– which is happening currently most successfully at charter schools like New Technology HS and High Tech HS. But we can.

8. One more recommendation– I think there is good work happening at, and that it will swiftly become a strong addition to this picture. The “chief learning officer” there seems really smart, and has a blog that might be worth following: