Non-consumers in education

Clayton Christensen and Michael Horn say that Computer-Based Learning Could Transform Public Education within a Decade through “Disruptive Innovation”. This is based on Christensen’s models of disruption from his Innovators series of books, which I’ve discussed in Entrants and Incumbents.

The authors use the model of innovation that shows certain advantages for entrants, namely motivations and skills that incumbents don’t want or have. Targeting “non-consumers” is the suggested tactic, as Sony did with its transistor radio against the higher quality vacuum tube radios in the 1960’s.

Using the same methodology in analyzing the public system and its reliance on text books,  they suggest:

Pitting computer-based learning directly against teachers or continuing to cram it into schools will not work. Producers of computer-based learning software must introduce it disruptively, by letting it compete against non-consumption initially. And software makers must customize the software for different learning types while other entrepreneurs find new channels to reach students.

One business model of this type is the University of Phoenix targeting adults who never would be able to attend a traditional university full-time or on site. Another would be the online language learning offerings cropping up all over the Web.

An example the authors provide is that of pharmaceutical makers advertising direct to consumers, so that patients can ask for a specific prescription from their physician.  In this case, centralized purchasing is being completely bypassed, and so with it the massive advertising dollars of the industry.

This could happen in public education. With students identified as “non-consumers” [who are never consulted and have no influence in the education system], they may have education options in the next decade that are “as good as” the existing school system. The next generation may just decide to opt out of the public system. Is this how our public education system will end, with the last student quietly turning out the classroom lights?

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