Disruptive Innovation

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Michael Horn is the Co-founder and Executive Director of Education at The Clayton Christensen Institute For Disruptive Innovation, a think tank that applies the theories of “Disruptive Innovation” to problems in social areas. He will talk about how Disruptive Innovation theories, where innovative, simpler and more affordable ideas replace older, more complicated and expensive ideas, can be used to improve education by identifying the root causes of schools’ struggles and suggest ways to customize learning for students.

Ted Simons: Replacing older, more complicated ideas with newer and more efficient strategies is one of the tenets of disruptive innovation theory. But how to apply disruptive innovation to education ideas? Joining us now is Michael Horn, co-founder and executive director of education at the Clayton Christensen Institute for Disruptive Innovation. Horn was a keynote speaker at a conference held today by the Arizona Commission for Postsecondary Education. It's good to have you here, welcome to the show.

Michael Horn: Thanks so much for having me.

Ted Simons: Did I get that right with disruptive innovation? Is that close?

Michael Horn: That approximates it. It's interesting, disruption, people think it's a newfangled thing, the breakthrough idea. It's a little more specific than that. It's really an innovation that starts with something primitive, it's not as good as what's out there right now, but it brings forth affordability, convenience and allows people that didn't have access to a really expensive product or service to start using it and then it gets better and better over time and people flock to it because they want something more affordable.

Ted Simons: And tailor this now to education concerns.

Michael Horn: We're starting to see in higher education in particular a lot of models powered by online learning right now that are coming out and making education a lot more accessible and affordable for a whole group of students, really working adults who did not have access to higher education before. Arizona's been a stalwart of this over the last couple of decades. We're seeing the pace of innovation increase significantly to make the price point a lot more affordable and really to start taking the innovations that you can do with technology and make it much more personalized for individual student needs and that's the exciting part of the work.

Ted Simons: So personalized, affordability, accessibility, what about quality?

Michael Horn: Quality is going to be the big question. I would say over the last couple of decades, a lot of the online universities that have come out have been great business model innovations and the quality has been sometimes really good and sometimes not so much. And a lot of what we're trying to do is raise the topic of you can actually use this to make education fundamentally student-centered, to meet each individual with his or her needs and that requires a very different mindset about what education looks like from where it's been now. In k-12 I'll tell you I actually think there's been far more learning innovations and far fewer business model innovations. We're seeing the potential.

Ted Simons: So how much, though, can a school, can a brick-and-mortar school customize education?

Michael Horn: In K-12 education, I'll talk there first, and then I'll talk about higher ed. In K-12 education, the bulk of brick and mortar schools can start to use online learning to create a blended learning experience that personalizes and is tailored to each individual need. A great example in Arizona is Carpe Diem, a charter school in Yuma. They use online curriculum to say you go at your pace, but there's teachers roving around the floor that can dive in and pull you out for a seminar with another group of students, can work on a project with you. It's much more personalized than a traditional classroom lecture-based experience would be. They're not building all of the tools, they're using it from the various people in the private sector. It's that blend that I think is really fascinating and creates the opportunities.

Ted Simons: Hybrid notwithstanding, is there a concern when you've got a student and a screen and a yes and a no and a this and a that and there's no one else around that socialization just, the ability to communicate, that those learning experiences are lost?

Michael Horn: It should be a concern. I think what we're seeing from most full-time virtual or online programs as well as the blended programs that take off that they really think about this issue of screen time, how much time do you really want students in front of the screen? What's the right interaction with adults, what's the right interaction with other kids quite frankly? And it's why I think the best programs right now are those that really thoughtfully blend those different experiences together. But I will tell you, you walk into some schools that have online learning and it's like walking into the night of the living dead. Students just clicking away, click, click, click and it's not that robust interaction, but I'll also tell you it doesn't work, as well. So I think that's the mitigating force. Students don't like that experience.

Ted Simons: You mentioned K-12 and postsecondary were different. Talk about postsecondary.

Michael Horn: Postsecondary is going to be a different thing. We're seeing these online universities come on that actually will fundamentally disrupt a lot of our traditional colleges and universities. It wouldn't surprise me in the next 10-15 years if a quarter of our traditional colleges and universities merged or even went out of business. I think that the economics, their traditional business model is working against a lot of these traditional institutions and the online players have enormous advantages as they get better and better.

Ted Simons: Quality of education, postsecondarily, is it going to be there? Because again, if these things could go out of business, it's not good for anyone.

Michael Horn: It's an open question but what I'll tell you is this, the current teaching and learning occurring in current universities is pretty terrible. Most faculty members are not schooled in how to create very good learning experiences. They tend to be consumed with research at the elite end. They're overwhelmed by budget problems at the lower end. My sense is actually this is a huge opportunity to empower teachers to much more effectively reach their students.

Ted Simons: Disruptive innovation, how much is it being used now and from what you have seen so far, what kind of results?

Michael Horn: So we're seeing a lot of online education occurring and disruptively so. Northern Arizona is taking that, putting it into a competency-based learning environment. It's just starting, but the excitement around that potential for quality is really quite there. They're doing something really smart, aligning it with employer and workforce needs. When students leave, there's actually an opportunity for them to immediately engage in the workforce and so there's actually a return on this time that they've put in.

Ted Simons: And real quickly, last question, you mentioned workforce and you mentioned job training and such, a lot of folks see a university education, a postsecondary education as a way to round yourself out, learn about yourself as opposed to focusing on one thing to the detriment of everything else. How does this play into all of that?

Michael Horn: That's a good question. I think a couple of things people have to realize. The majority of our citizens today don't enjoy that ideal collegiate experience where they get to snake through different experiences. When they snake through different experiences, most students don't complete college and it's actually a pretty disastrous impact on their debt and so forth. That's actually not the common experience today. The second thing I think is if we can make education fundamentally affordable, throughout our lives, we can actually make higher education a life-long learning thing where we continue to come back to it as it makes sense for our different passions and pathways.

Ted Simons: All right, very good. Good to have you here. Thank you so much for joining us.

Michael Horn: Thank you.

Michael Horn:Co-founder and Executive Director of Education, The Clayton Christensen Institute For Disruptive Innovation;

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