One of the most popular concepts when it relates to company performance is how they think about and integrate disruptive innovation into their business model. Many companies both large and small claim to be disruptive. In this post, we will consider disruptive innovation from an education perspective related to what kids are currently learning & how that content may be important to the future demands of the workplace.
Disruptive & Sustaining Innovation
In 1995, Harvard Business School Professor, Clayton Christensen, introduced the concept of disruptive innovation
. In the article, Clayton outlines two competing types of innovations: disruptive & sustaining. Disruptive innovations are developed via a process in which a smaller company with fewer resources is able to successfully challenge established incumbent businesses. On the other hand, sustaining innovations are often developed by a larger company that makes a good product better in the eyes of the incumbent’s existing customers. These improvements often enable companies to sell more products to their most profitable customers. Disruptive innovations are often considered inferior in the eyes of existing customers and are not willing to change their purchase behavior simply because the price is lower. However, once the quality meets or exceeds that of the sustaining innovation – the new offerings are often adopted in volume which drives the overall price down and creates obsolescence issues for the sustaining innovation. In essence, the smaller company has disrupted the incumbent with a new offering that exceeds the expectations of the customer.
Innovation in education
Within education, one could argue that a similar dynamic exists. Within traditional education, there is a core set of subjects that have been taught for decades – math, science, reading and language. In the teaching of these subjects, there have been new standards and measurements (Common Core) that have been developed. However, the fundamental delivery (1 instructor: many students, teacher as source of expertise vs. students or online resources, teaching to the test or to earn a summative grade vs learning to learn) and content of education within schools has been relatively unchanged –sustaining innovations. When we consider this within the context of the rapid explosion of technology, tablets and laptops have been incorporated into the classroom to further push a reinforcement of the traditional model. Parents have happily paid the cost for these new devices which have improved the material delivery but have not disrupted the baseline educational model or introduced new content in a substantive way. However, over time, there has been a backlash against these devices
as the question began to be asked, “Is an iPad going to move the needle in preparing my child for the skills they need to be successful in the future?”
On the other hand, you have a program like Hour of Code
which is a one hour introduction to computer science that is designed to demystify code and teach the basics. This program which can easily be incorporated into existing educational models has now been taken by 100 million kids
– disruptive innovation. When one thinks about disruptive vs. sustaining innovations, one of the key elements is to look at the trajectory. Taking one hour from an entire year of the traditional school year does not seem especially threatening to incumbent organizations. However, as Code.org and organizations like them continue to work on improving their product; you will see the quality continue to improve until we ultimately see increased adoption and customer demand for this new educational content (coding/programming).
What’s in it for my kid?
If you’re like most parents, you are thinking, “That sounds great, what’s in it for my kid?” Research has shown that 90% of parents want their child to learn computer science. However, only 40% of schools offer learning on the subject. To move those stats in a meaningful way, an entire ecosystem of disruptive solutions will have to be developed both within schools and for extracurricular activities (after school, competitions). If the individuals and companies that are pushing these new programs gain support at both the national, state and local level; it is hard to imagine that we will not see a large and growing number of solutions in the marketplace. It is also important to remember that disruptive innovations don’t always initially meet customer expectations because the lens is different (Comparing Hour of Code to a pre-calculus class will be difficult). However, by giving feedback and support in the early days, you can help innovative new solutions get on a trajectory of continuous improvement that will ultimately improve the quality and quantity. In this state of the world, not only are you facilitating the creation of an entirely new innovation in education, you are also getting your child on a path to exceed the expectations of her future employer.
Being content (coding/technology), what other areas of the educational model do you feel are ripe for disruption?