We Disrupt This Broadcast

We Disrupt This Broadcast

In his last post of 2012, Frank Catalano wishfully came up with a list of terms to ban in 2013. Topping the list: Disrupt.

So much for that. Over the past week, that word clawed its way back into the edtech blogosphere, in response a new report, "Is K-12 Blended Learning Disruptive?" from the Clayton Christensen Institute, named after the Harvard business school professor who injected so much life into the D-word. (Here's our quick summary.)

The question in the title led blogger Audrey Watters to opine how the tech industry's obsession with "disruption" may reflect a cultural, quasi-religious fascination with millennial narratives that follows a predictable course: "some sort of cataclysmic event(s) that will bring about a radical cultural (economic, political) transformation and, eventually, some sort of paradise." Innovation, framed through this lens, is a zero-sum game: the old (like print publishing, for example) will "die" as new technologies offer consumers a better choice.

Marie Bjerede offered a slightly different look at "disruptive innovation" as a metaphor whose meaning got lost in translation. She wrote:

It allows Christensen and his colleagues to help us see business model evolution in a way we weren’t able to before and to take advantage of this new vision to plan for the future. It also breaks down when extended too far or too literally and the word “disruptive” starts to be used for innovative or powerful sustaining innovations leading to a muddle of wanna-be edtech disruptors thinking they know what “disruption,” “innovation,” “engagement,” and “learning” mean while in reality they are mistaking the map for the territory and grounding those metaphors in the wrong kinds of experiences.

Metaphors, she argued, work only within a shared, appropriate context. In education, technology can disrupt both business models and pedagogical models in radically different ways. It would be folly to simply conflate the two and ignore how everyone, from students to CEOS, might be affected.

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