Home > Misc > 2010-03-16 We Are The Network: Is it Time for a Disruptive Solution for Modern Education?

2010-03-16 We Are The Network: Is it Time for a Disruptive Solution for Modern Education?

March 15th, 2010

Is it Time for a Disruptive Solution for Modern Education?

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This Tuesday, Mar 16, at the Epoch Institute in Second Life

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This Week’s TopicIs it Time for a Disruptive Solution for Modern Education?

A Caveat

You may be used to quick discussion starter posts for We Are The Network sessions. This is not one of those posts! I sat down to write this, realized that many threads wind together to create context for this discussion, then figured I should try to get them into written form. I hope this is interesting. Research for this session also turned up a number of interesting web references. Please feel free to add comments with relevant references. Thanks in advance for reading, and for being part of We Are The Network – here we go…

A Personal Experience with some nice results

This weekend I presented three different topics at the Virtual World Best Practices in Education 2010 conference:  “Creating and Adapting Educational Curriculum for Virtual World Delivery,” “Delivery Skills for Connecting with Today’s Digitally Immersed Students in Face to Face, Social Media and Virtual World Settings” and “Adapting Agile Scrum Project Management for Face to Face, Social Media and Virtual World Education Projects.”

The conference included 176 presenter sessions in 48 hours, over 1000 pre-registered attendees (I’m still waiting to find out the total number of participants), and an enthusiastic, global audience. I presented some challenging material, and received comments from participants that the sessions interesting and highly engaging. A few said they were trying to multi-task but kept being drawn back – which was really a nice response!

…And Then the Big Surprise

There was, however, a big surprise. In the view of some participants, the learning received was better than had it been delivered in person! Although some of this result is based on the platform, my belief is that a large part of these successes were based on the use of a non-traditional instructional approach. I’m pretty certain that the same results could be generated in a pure face to face setting as well, and now know that virtual delivery works just as effectively with these techniques. As a result of these sessions I’ve been approached to deliver virtual sessions (some live video with bi-directional remote, to an international conference, and some in virtual world settings) at other conferences.

Are we on The Brink?

After years of work in face to face, online, mixed reality, social media and virtual world settings, this experience really got me to thinking. If these techniques and platforms have gotten to the point that some think they’re equal to or better than an in-person experience, are we on the brink of the disruption of another industry—one whose basis has been beyond question for years?

Research for this week’s session turned up many interesting findings, including this one from a Carnegie Mellon study (see the Hybrid Education 2.0 link below) “researchers found that, over a two-semester trial period, students in a traditional classroom introductory statistics course scored no better than similar students who used the open-learning program and skipped the three weekly lectures and lab period.” …so it’s not just me… there are surprising strategies that can work as well or better than “the way it’s always been” for education, and the metrics are now starting to appear to demonstrate the results in objective form.

But First, What is a Disruptive Model?

Some innovations are not incremental—they do not extend the state of the art by “a bump”—instead they revolutionize a category of business or technology (and thus the related businesses.) One example of many is online media delivery, which has caused chaos for print media, over the air broadcast television, and as another case the corner video store. Global, flattened, instant communication has led to global competition in many surprising ways, and opened the door to services that dynamically shift technology and labor to lower cost regions, or place the work closer to the delivery point globally, to increase response speed. Robotics and automation have disrupted many professions that used to rely on “things that only people can do.”

Disruptive business models are not always about technology. They can be enabled by technology, or simply be a great idea that happens to invalidate an existing business or even a whole industry.

Is There Any Reason to Expect Education to be Immune from Disruptive Innovation?

We are at an inflection point. This inflection point suggests that it is time for one or a cluster of disruptive innovations to revolutionize the educational paradigms we have assumed for years. In many ways, predicting disruption is a black art. It is like predicting earthquakes. You know something is going to happen, and whether it is likely to eventually be small or large in general, but maybe not exactly when.

The core driver for disruption in the education space is simple. It is not based on the existence of some magic new shiny tech toy. I do not think there is any reason to expect that education has some magic pill that, in some way different than all other industries, will exempt it from disruptive innovation.

Disruption Drivers

The rate of technology change, business change and cultural change have accelerated, and are continuing to accelerate. In addition, the rate of knowledge generation by our species has accelerated dramatically. Soon we will cross the threshold where more information is generated by sensors and computers that analyze the world around us, our communication and our actions than we generate ourselves. This in itself will provide an additional multiplier to knowledge generation.

We think of a generation in human terms. A generation is 15, 20, 25 years, or maybe some other number in this range. Human generational time is still operating on the time scale it has for hundreds of years, if not thousands. Now technology generations are accelerating as well, so that new technology generations are spawned in a matter of 18 -24 months in some cases. An older sibling may be living in a different technology generation than a newborn, within the same family, and it will only get faster over time.

Yet with all of this explosion of knowledge creation, information generation, and the use of computers and sensors to more quickly acquire, analyze and create new understanding of information, we still create educational materials and deliver learning using essentially the same processes and tools that were used decades and centuries ago. More importantly, curriculum development time has not accelerated at anywhere near the rates that information, knowledge, business and culture have accelerated.

Our ability to create curriculum, update it, learn to teach it, and deliver it in a timely fashion relative to the change rate of society and technology is starting to diverge in some painful ways from the reality of students and the world they live in.

The Needed Disruption

I will go out on a limb here, and say that I think the needed disruption has much more to do with the challenge of timeliness than a new magic technology tool, although it will be enabled by technology in some ways. How will our approach to education evolve to match the generational timeframes of business, technology and society, so that it can maintain relevance for the coming decades (or even centuries)?

A Few Discussion Starters

(Finally! I know this has been a much longer We Are The Network post than usual – thanks for reading!)

Can we achieve success with education through an incremental evolution of strategy? If so, how can that be done?

If educational success requires, or will be driven by a disruptive solution, what might that solution look like?

If a disruptive solution appears, what will the effect be on “traditional education”? Will it mean that the traditional educational institutions will lose relevance and fall away, in the same fashion as print media and other industries that have encountered disruptive change?

Join us Tuesday at 12PM noon SL, and thanks for being part of “We Are The Network”!

Best regards,


Reading links below – have fun and see you soon!

March 13, 2010 President Obama Weekly Address: “Education for a More Competitive America and Better Future”
(video) http://www.whitehouse.gov/photos-and-video/video/weekly-address-education-a-more-competitive-america-better-future

(transcript) http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/weekly-address-president-obama-send-updated-elementary-and-secondary-education-act-
(Huffington Post article about the speech) http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2009/03/10/obama-education-plan-spee_n_173405.html

March 15, 2010 Press Release: “Obama Administration’s Education Reform Plan Emphasizes Flexibility, Resources and Accountability for Results”

A Blueprint for Reform: The Reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (U.S. Department of Education)

Do we need a new tech literacy? (Behind the “big data” services like Twitter, Facebook use)

Education 2.0 – not afraid of Second Life

Is Scientific Publishing About to be Disrupted, by Michael Nielsen

Disruptive Technology

Instructional vs Experiential Design: Do you have what it takes?

Where Social Learning Thrives

The Learning Age

Hybrid Education 2.0

Blended Learning (Wikipedia)

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Categories: Misc Tags: , ,
  1. March 23rd, 2010 at 08:59 | #1

    I just found a related article – a slideshare by Professor Jeremy B. Williams (home page http://www.jeremybwilliams.net/jbw/Home.html), Queensland University of Technology:

    “Disruptive Education” http://authenticlearning.wordpress.com/2009/09/09/disruptive-education/

  1. March 15th, 2010 at 16:49 | #1
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