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on July 18, 2013
Christensen reminds me of Marx and Engles; having come up with a new perspective on economics they then proceeded to write volumes and volumes applying it to everything and anything. (even astrophysics) Some of their applications were profoundly inciteful and well researched, some of them were more like wishful thinking and some were downright silly. I think Christensen's book the "Innovator's Dilemma" will rank as one of the classics of economic and social theory, on a level with works such as "the Wealth of Nations". In "Disrupting Class", he applies his theory of disruption to the field of education and not only provides an analysis of the field but makes some very strong predictions. However, in the case of education, as opposed to business, the mechanism of social change is not clearly laid out. (This was the problem with all of Marx's grand predictions, as Elster pointed out) Businesses change because old ones go bankrupt and new ones take their place, yet unwieldy bureaucracies can remain that way for hundreds of years (the Vatican). I would like to believe in the future of education in "Disrupting Class" but there is not enough explanation in the book of how this will come about. Still an interesting and thoughtful book, but not his best.
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on March 30, 2014
This is a very well presented theory on the upcoming revolution in public education. Clayton Christensen has provided an interesting model of disruptive innovation that has impacted the business world numerous times, and he makes an excellent case for how it will now disrupt public education. Any educational leader who is either unfamiliar with Christensen's theory or who chooses to ignore it will be left behind as this disruptive revolution continues to grow in education.
I believe that public schools can become a part of the revolution if they can find a way to embrace all that innovative technology has to offer. I am sure that there is a model for blended learning that would entail the best that technology has to offer along with the personal interaction and support that a classroom teacher can provide. If public schools don't fully embrace a blended model of education that produces positive results and continues to remain adaptable to the changing demands that our society puts on public education, then the public schools could well lose out to charter schools and on-line learning.
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on February 13, 2015
At first, I thought this was just another superficial book about education that touched on a few major topics without offering anything original or in-depth.

While it was a bit redundant, and describes the research a LOT more than how to actually use it (and the projections about future use of technology are by now proven to be completely too optimistic), a few good ideas persist.

"Student-centric learning" is definitely a buzzword.

I don't like that the authors own an education softward company that is promoted in the book. But I'm new to the topic education reform, and have an instinctive preference for using tech and "student centric learning" to innovate education, so the ideas resonated a lot.
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on April 14, 2015
Reform isn't going to happen from the top-down, it's going to happen from the bottom-up. Individual teachers and whole schools will innovate in ways that reach the outlier students who don't fit in to regular school. As mainstream schools continue to fail despite increased funding, these other schools will continue to innovate and attract more students. Eventually, mainstream schools will either die out because of a lack of enrollment or they'll adapt.

In my discussions with fellow grad students in education, not everyone believes the claims of the book, they don't think innovation will actually happen. Believe what you want, but this book rang true to me.
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VINE VOICEon March 23, 2010
If you want to learn how to improve education by focusing on a student centered approach, this book is for you. Just like customers should be the center of the business and the focus of success in business is meeting the customers' needs and wants, the student should be the focus of the school and success should be measured by how well a school meets their needs and wants. Writing this of course, I understand, will generate many nay sayers who will have numerous arguments for why this is incorrect.

However, solutions that focus on the needs of the teachers, the unions, the principals, the parents, etc., have not worked. And, with the proper guidance, students should know what they need to be successful in their school work and ulitmately their lives.

Clayton using his usually strong analytical approach evaluates the educational challenges both inductively and deductively to get to the root cause of the problem. And, in my words, the problem is this: each student learns differently, and the centralized, bureaucratic approaches that have been used to force fit a regimented approach dictated from Washington down to local school boards haven't and won't solve this problem. What we need is a more student centric approach that uses flexible tools developed through information technology to meet the needs of individual students.

This is a very innovative approach to solving this problem, and in my opinion, Clayton is the most innovative thinker out there today. After all, as he quotes Einstein (and I used some liberty to paraphrase), you can't solve the problem by using the solutions that caused it.

Then, Clayton lays out how the change is happening (in some instances) and can happen (in others where it is not) based upon innovation concepts like disruptive innovation and heavyweight teams.

I highly recommend this book for any individual interested in innovation and/or education.

Clayton has written another excellent book to build upon his disruptive innovation philosophy. Thank you, Clayton, for your continued excellent work!
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on October 26, 2009
Christensen and two colleagues present an interesting argument for the need for a radical (disruptive) change in education. They then argue cogently for that change being online courses delivered over the internet allowing teachers to do more one on one tutoring, less group lecture. As a high school teacher of math and physics for 15 years, I find their view of great value.

Christensen is a professor at the Harvard Business School who developed a theory of disruptive change to explain what happens in business when new technology disrupts a stable market (e.g., the personal computer and its impact on mid-size and mainframe computers). I was skeptical that a business school professor would get anything right about education. In fact he gets a lot right: education does need a paradigm shift to accommodate diminishing numbers of teachers and diminishing resource, and to accommodate the long discussed little addressed differences among learners and how to accommodate it in classes of 20 or more using lecture as the principal teaching method. The notion that courses delivered over the internet could be built to accommodate individual differences in learning style, and could free teachers from administrative tasks to allow them to tutor one on one, is intriguing. Christensen does NOT do the heavy lifting of building such courses, he only motivates those who are considering that heavy lifting. But he does provide the rationale for being willing to do the heavy lifting to build excellent courses delivered on the internet, and to invest the billions needed to give each student access to a computer in multiple classrooms.
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on December 23, 2013
As somebody who is just starting to learn about the transformation of the education system across the globe, I have found some of the thoughts and theories in the book quite inspiring. The definition of intrinsic motivation, job to be done and how would one position online learning opposite to classroom or computer based learning was extremely insightful and inspiring. The research part is a bit challenging, and some of the analysis like charter schools seem to apply mostly for US environment, but nevertheless, it was another Chirstensen book that once you start reading, you cannot let go. I would recommend it to all policy makers, schools authorities, but also businesses that are trying to approach what now even Gartner calls "a vertical education market".
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VINE VOICEon August 31, 2010
From the Robert and Jane Cizik Professor of Business Administration at The Harvard Business School and author of the NYT bestsellers The Innovator's Dilemma and The Innovator's Solution (Clayton Christensen) comes this uniquely important work. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi has written that "Creative thoughts evolve in this gap filled with tension - holding on to what is known and accepted while tending toward a still ill defined truth that is barely glimpsed on the other side of the chasm." (1) This book has engineered the architecture to span that chasm.

Along with writer and consultant Curtis Johnson and Executive Director of The Innosight Institute Michael Horn, Christensen and his co-authors demonstrate the sheer beauty of applying the current scholarship we understand about innovation in other domains (business et al) - to a domain that precariously occupies that space in American society that can accurately be characterized as a "gap filled with tension - holding on to what is known and accepted." The latter domain would be the field of U.S. public education. Why? Why is this cross-disciplinary approach so important? Molecular Biologist Kary Mullis nails it when she writes: "Important inventions almost always cross the lines of disciplines. Moving between fields is the way to be creative."(2)

What motivates these authors? In the first half-dozen pages you acquire the distinct impression that these fellows care deeply about improving the U.S. public education system....they've studied it...exhaustively - all the excuses, criticisms, rationalizations, performance data and the like.

After the introductory chapter, the authors use vignettes to set the context for the discussion contained in each respective chapter. The first chapter struggles with the issue of why we are teaching in a standardized approach when we are all "differently-abled" - we learn differently. Chapter two introduces the concept of disruptive innovation, which the authors define as follows: `The disruptive innovation theory explains why organizations struggle with certain kinds of innovation and how organizations can predictably succeed in innovation." (p.45). "Disruptive innovation is not a breakthrough improvement. { Instead of sustaining the traditional improvement trajectory in the established plane of competition, it disrupts that trajectory by bringing to the market a product or service that actually is. Not as good as what companies historically had been selling."(p.47). There's much more to the scholarship that supports the authors thesis regarding disruptive innovation. The charts are also very helpful in conceptualizing the points they are making.

Why haven't we seen disruptive innovation in the U.S. public education system? Listen to these authors: "People did not create new disruptive business models in public education, however. Why not? Almost all disruptions take root among non consumers. In education, there was little opportunity to do that. Public education is set up as a public utility, and state laws mandate attendance for virtually everyone. There was no large, untapped pool of non consumers that new school models could target." p.60. Note that one of the central points the authors make is that the targeting on non-consumers is the arena where disruptive innovation takes place, in other domains. (The way Apple targeted listeners of music with the iPod versus the recording industry creating a similar sort of innovation).

The authors go to great lengths to explain why technology has not transformed how we do what we do in public education (and the results derived therefrom) in the following: "In the language of disruption, here is what this means: Unless top managers actively manage this process, their organization will shape every disruptive innovation into a sustaining innovation -one that fits the processes, values, and economic model of the existing business - because organizations cannot naturally disrupt themselves. This is a core reason why incumbent firms are at a disadvantage relative to entrant companies when disruptive innovations emerge. And it explains why computers haven't changed schools." P.75.

The authors move on to detail how to disruptively deploy computers in the classroom and embrace a vastly more student-centric approach to teaching, learning and assessment. They characterize this as an "opportunity" when they state: "Maurice Maeterlinck, the Belgian Nobel Laureate in literature once observed, " At every crossway on the road that leads to the future each progressive spirit is opposed by a thousand men appointed to guard the past." `Educators, like the rest of us, tend to resist major change. But this shift in the learning platform, if managed correctly - which means disruptively is not a threat. It is an opportunity. Students will be able to work in the way that comes naturally for them. Teachers can be learning leaders with time to pay attention to each student. And school organizations can navigate the impending financial maelstrom without abdicating their mission." P.112.

Chapters five and six delve into the recommendations of these scholars regarding how disruptive innovation evolves within a highly regulated system akin to public education, using examples from the private sector. They address the importance of the knowledge being derived out of the field of neuroscience as it relates to the importance of language dancing during the very early, formative years of infancy. They also advocate for user-generated content, platforms that empower non-technical folks to create powerful learning tools - sharing the same in our connected world. Their treatment of the public education system as a value-chain commercial system is fascinating - a system whose production and distribution of learning materials can and must change, along with disruptive innovations in the current marketing and distribution model.

Chapter 7 legitimately and methodically lampoons the "quality" of social research produced in and around public education - a fact that remains an incredible handicap to the system, teachers, administrators, students, community and country. Chapter 8 is a clarion call for a "common language" in addressing the challenges inherent within the current system. What do the authors mean by "common language?" Consider this excerpt for clarity: "providing a common language is a "mechanism of movement," in that, when done well, it can shift a group's location in the matrix to the point that other tools of cooperation can be effective. With a common language and a common framing of the problem, tools like strategic planning, measurement systems, and salesmanship can be effective. An important reason why we have gone to such lengths to identify the root causes of the problems plaguing public schools is our hope that this book might serve this role for our readers. While we may not have gotten all of our diagnoses and solutions correct, we hope that the understanding we have summarized here might - create a common language and a common way to frame these problems so that there is broader agreement on what is needed and how to achieve it." (pp. 192-193). If that's the impact of this book, we should all be deeply grateful.

Chapter 9 addresses suggestions for structuring schools so they are encouraged to innovate. In the conclusion to this work, the authors, once again, emphasize that their recommendations must not be viewed as threats, but as distinct opportunities to be explored.

This review is not intended to be a substitute for reading and discussing this work. On the contrary - It is my hope that it encourages many to do just that.
It is an incredible body of knowledge that contains the engineering know-how (from both a theoretical and practical standpoint) to Span the Current Chasm in U.S. Public Education.

Devour it. Discuss it with friends and colleagues. Then do something disruptively innovative with that discussion. As the authors use of a quote from Einstein clearly illustrates: "The significant problems we have cannot be solved with the same level of thinking we were using when we created them."(p.156).


(1) Csikszentmihalyi, Mihaly Creativity - Flow and the Psychology of Discovery and Invention, Harper Perrenial, HarperCollinsPublishers, New York, New York Copyright © 1996 by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, p.103.

(2) Barron, Frank Montuori, Alfonso & Barron, Anthea Creators on Creating - Awakening and Cultivating the Imaginative Mind, Penguin Group (USA) Inc. New York, NY Copyright © 1997 by Frank Barron, Alfonso Montuori and Anthea Barron - quote by Kary Mullis - p.70 & 73. Chapter entitled The Screwdriver.
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on June 5, 2014
This is a very far-sighted book. It analyzes the root cause of low ROI in US education system. The authors proposed a new custom made program delivered via internet to accommodate both the students' learning pace, and the school training budget. Since the publication of this book, many organizations, such as Khan Academy and Coursera, have enriched the on-line training contents. It is a book worthy of reading to understand the US education system.
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on August 18, 2013
Very good book, describing how business models could be used to improve the public school system. The ideas are compelling, but it takes a great leap of faith to believe that they would be implemented by people that have a neutral agenda. Unfortunately, those that want to continue dumbing us down will still be control when the changes he mentioned are implemented. Mr. Christensen may be an eternal optimist, but I am not, therefore disagree with most of his conclusions. The info is good, though, well researched, and well written.
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