Disruptive Innovation: Disrupting the Traditional Educational Cycle

Disruptive innovation allows for institutions to evoke change and further develop their practice. In schools, this is an essential practice to ensuring that students are being provided the best, most equitable education with the most up-to-date information. However, schools are presented with a number of challenges in order to make this happen.

Schools have a business model and must operate according to this pre-existing model. With that, schools also have a pressure to act within the practices and values of a community, as Larry Cuban (2015) discusses. Cuban discusses the conflict that schools face when disruptive innovation is presented. On one hand, schools see the potential to advance schooling for their students, on the other, they are pressured to conform to the traditions of the community, which may resist disruptive innovation. As Dean Jack Gillette, of Lesley University’s Graduate School of Education, discusses in Susan Patterson’s podcast (2017), schools have looked relatively the same structurally since the early 1900’s. I believe this is partly due to the community pressures Cuban discusses, but also a bit of what Gillette discusses as well: many schools and educators are also resistant to the change. Change means educators must learn new things and change their way of thinking, which can be difficult. He speaks on the classroom level that teachers may be resistant. In the same podcast (2017), Dr. Stephen Gould, of Lesley University’s PhD in Educational Studies program, speaks of the disruption on an institutional level. Because schools have been consistently structured since the 1900’s, there needs to be a structural change in the way that students are being taught. Dr. Gould speaks of the distinction that disruptive innovation can shift the traditional model of the educator as the gate-keeper of knowledge to letting students drive the instruction; This can allow for a greater sense of differentiation.

As Arnett (2014) discusses, differentiation the ability to provide a more equitable education for wider range of students can be provided. Where students live can often determine the type of education they can receive and resources available to them. With disruptive innovation, technology has become more readily accessible to students in lower-income districts. Additionally, disruptive innovation allows for the increased differentiation of teaching. When technology is readily available to all students in all classrooms, students are able to engage in a variety of blended learning that allows for students to be taught at their instructional level in their own learning style.

Image result for classroom stations technology

For example, as mentioned in Horn and Fisher (2017), station rotation and flexible pacing can be ways to easily integrate technology that allows for greater differentiation. In these practices, students can move through stations at their own pace, allowing for extra time if need. Students may engage in varying activities at each station, integrating a multi-modal approach. This allows students to access similarly themed content, but from different access points. These practices can create a more UDL (Universal Design for Learning) friendly classroom where all students may succeed.

Disruptive innovation is incredibly important to schools because it can allow for the creation of a more equitable education system. Many schools are stuck in the “same old” model and are in desperate need of innovating. As technology and the world around us has changed, the structure of schools has not. Disruptive education can allow for greater, generalized student success. Utilizing these models and integrating technologies allows for the implementation of the SAMR (Substitution, Augmentation, Modification, Redefinition) model in order to transform our thinking of what a classroom can be. Disruptive technologies allow for greater student thinking and development of critical thinking and problem solving skills, while teaching content! With disruptive innovation, I see schools transforming into a more equitable system, which may help break the institutional poverty cycles and school-to-prison pipelines, making more students successful.

This all makes me think: to what extent does disruptive innovation need to be utilized in order to begin to transform and catalyze institutional change even beyond schools?



Arnett, T. (2014). Why disruptive innovation matters to educationClayton Christensen Institute.

Cuban, L. (2015, March 25). Some thoughts about change, innovation, and watching paint dry [Blog post].

Horn, M. & Fisher, J.F. (2017). New faces of blended learningEducational Leadership.

Patterson, S. (2017). Disruptive Innovation [Audio blog post]. Retrieved from https://soundcloud.com/susan_patterson/disruptive-innovation

1 Comment

  1. Mykayla:
    I’m with you on this. You note that, “With disruptive innovation, technology has become more readily accessible to students in lower-income districts.” I see the equity focus in your musings and share that focus generally and regarding new uses of instructional technology at all levels. Seems funny, but I’m thinking of those TV ads for SNHU (S. New Hampshire Univ.). I did a bit of reading on the university president and the vision. Clearly a higher ed effort at bringing training and education, and thus opportunity, to a much wider range of folks than the traditional college experience can and does. And they have online and in person instruction. Some similar characteristics as community college visions. And I think it was in one of Michael Horn’s articles that he suggested the disruption, the change, catalyst for transforming schooling will likely begin not in K12, but perhaps higher ed where the market is much more competitive. On the K12 level, I’ve often thought we need to be more aggressive with creating blended learning environments that blow open the variety of assessments that we deem useful and authentic. There’s still a lot to be said for parts of the traditional model – kids and teachers together with content, soft skills development, democratic classroom practices in a community, etc – yet, lots of kids are bored these days. But they aren’t bored when they get to surf the world on their own 24/7 without us. We need to reconcile this for the older students.


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