Planning for Disruption

Educational technology has progressed rapidly in the past ten years, however many classrooms, curricula, and state requirements have not budged. This movement of educational technology has started the ripples of a disruptive force to change K-12 education. With high speed internet, bring-your-own-device, and 1:1 programs in schools, blended and online learning environments are poised to disrupt traditional education. Educators can already see the impact this advancement of technology is having on higher education with the MOOC movement. With careful planning and implementation, the blended and online learning technologies are ready to transform K-12 education.

In their 2008 book Disrupting Class: How Disruptive Innovations will Change the Way the World Learns, Christensen, Horn, and Johnson examine the force of disruptive innovations in education. They note that traditional schools are built around a structure that promotes standardization, while learning is personal and individual. Citing Howard Gardner’s work with multiple intelligences, the authors conclude students will learn best in school systems designed to support multiple intelligences, and computer-based learning is the best opportunity for schools to differentiate learning for students with multiple learning styles. Christensen, Horn, and Johnson believe traditional schools are ready for disruption, and they provide evidence to support their claim that by 2019 more than 50% of high school courses will be delivered with online content. This disruption of traditional learning is more visible through the growth of online learning in higher education.

In a recent Wall Street Journal article, Douglas Belkin (@dougbelkin) questions the relationship of Massively-Open Online Courses (MOOCs) and traditional universities. Through a conversation with three university representatives, Belkin concludes MOOCs complement traditional university coursework, but MOOCs alone will not replace traditional university learning. MOOCs do have the ability to reach millions of learners, but critics of MOOCs are quick to argue few of these learners complete the coursework. MOOCs, and online learning, can be impersonal. Educational researcher Katy Jordan (@katy_jordan) has studied MOOC participation and completion, finding MOOCs enroll around 20,000 learners per course with an average completion rate of 13%. This means 2,600 learners per course complete a free and open class they otherwise would have not attended. So yes, learners drop out of MOOCs, but the MOOC disruption in education also opens access for new learners. As the costs of colleges rise, MOOCs are poised to impact the structure of traditional university learning, opening new avenues for learning. K-12 organizations must prepare for online education to disrupt the traditional system of education, pushing for a more personalized and individual approach to education. In the next five years, a majority of K-12 learning may be delivered online. Administrators and educational leaders must encourage new innovations like online learning, or K-12 education will continue to support a standardized, rigid, and impersonal learning environment.

The foray into blended or online learning does not need to be a step into the unknown for school organizations; a technology integration plan that includes coaching and peer-sharing will lead to success. When planned and implemented appropriately, new technologies like online learning will be very effective. A key part of this implementation plan requires support for teachers. My doctoral research study examined the correlation between teacher training and teacher use of laptops as my district began its first 1:1 laptop program. I found large-group, sporadic, and one-size-fits-all training does not lead to successful implementation of technology. An approach that focuses on coaching and peer-group collaboration will better results. Gene Hall, co-founder of the Concerns-Based Adoption Model, explains that teachers need a supportive coach to lead them through a differentiated learning path based on their familiarity and use of technology. Jonah Lehrer, author of Imagine: How Creativity Works, also pointed out while individuals can learn from a screen, sharing ideas in person leads to greater opportunities for innovation. Implementation of any new idea, but specifically blended and online courses, will be more successful if coaching and peer-group collaboration are used to differentiate instruction.

Traditional K-12 school leaders face many challenges. Many forces, like the recent emphasis on standardization and the exponential growth of technology, have primed K-12 organizations for disruption. Carefully planned and supported, though, this disruption can positively transform education to promote more personalized and individual learning.

Belkin, D. (2014, May 11). Can MOOCs and universities co-exist? Wall Street Journal. Retrieved May 15, 2014, from

Christensen, C. M., Horn, M. B., & Johnson, C. W. (2008). Disrupting class: How disruptive innovation will change the way the world learns. New York: McGraw-Hill.

Hall, G. E. (2010). Technology’s Achilles heel: Achieving high-quality implementation. Journal of Research on Technology in Education, 43(3), 231-263.

Jordan, K. (n.d.). MOOC Completion Rates: The Data. Retrieved May 15, 2014, from

Lehrer, J. (2012). Imagine: How creativity works. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

Staub, J. H. (2013). Teacher training and teacher use of laptops in a 1:1 laptop program: A correlational study (Unpublished doctoral dissertation). University of Phoenix. Retrieved May 15, 2014, from


4 thoughts on “Planning for Disruption

  1. kristieburk May 16, 2014 / 2:29 pm

    Hey Justin –
    I completely agree that “teachers need a supportive coach to lead them through a differentiated learning path based on their familiarity and use of technology.” We’ve done a lot of differentiated professional development throughout the year with the teachers in the Ivy Academy and they’ve really appreciated it. As I think you said in a previous blog, if it’s good for the students – then it’s good for the teachers, too!

    • Justin Staub May 17, 2014 / 1:11 pm

      Thanks Kristie. There are many ways to differentiate professional development, and I try to ask myself why we teach teachers differently than we teach students. This relationship is one that needs to be examined so we can improve both teaching and professional development.

  2. Kris Young May 24, 2014 / 12:45 pm

    Great post! There are so many pieces to ensure the success of students and I am looking forward to customized learning. The transformation in our classrooms so far with our 1:1 imitative proving access, hybrid and online classes, and other initiatives… We have scratched the surface and looking forward to the future. The key to success as you stated is ensuring teachers have support … Individual support … And an environment where teachers feel like the can try new things and possibly fail and that’s ok… It’s more important to have instructional support than tech support at this point. Various methods of instruction and learning is also important … Students all learn in different ways and at different paces just like staff. Really looking forward to customized learning and rigorous lessons and where it takes K12 education next in preparing our students!

    • Justin Staub May 24, 2014 / 12:49 pm

      Kris, I look forward to planning this personalized support for staff and students along with you. When operating in a job with few folks in your organization to fully understand your work, it is important to share ideas and problem-solve with a professional learning network online. I can’t wait for this opportunity!

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