Not Disruptive Enough

In a recent post, Is Online Learning a Disruptive Innovation? by the Harvard Education Publishing Group, Peter J. Stokes says:

While some experts argue that online learning can and should be more cost effective to deliver than traditional classroom instruction, the reality for many schools is that they grow their online efforts alongside their classroom operations, and thus they see their operational costs increasing rather than decreasing. And students are often charged the same tuition—or even higher—for online programs as for campus programs.

This kind of online learning is far from being disruptive. Most organisations are using online learning as a supplement to the traditional format, or as Stokes says above, growing these alongside classroom operations. In effect, online learning is bound to the classroom process and is bound to the amount of disruption a classroom can offer, which is almost zero.

Online learning needs to be released from the shackles traditional learning processes – if we are to see any disruption at all. In doing this, online learning achieves:

  • Better costs: When online learning is not subservient to the traditional format, it becomes disruptive because it is not burdened by the cost-structures of the traditional format. As the author says in the post, disruptive products are not breakthrough products, they are “often inferior products. What makes them compelling is that they are cheaper and easier to use.” Stripping online learning of the burden of conventional cost and infrastructure makes them cheaper to use.
  • Teacher Focus: The traditional role of a class teacher changes with online learning. She is released from the burden of core instruction (which is taken on by online learning) and — becomes a facilitator to improve learning, is able to engage further with learners, can now provide better remedial learning, and importantly, have more time on her hand to improve her own skills.
  • Wider inclusion: Aligning the traditional format and online learning is a deterrent to a class of learners that are working, foreign or part-time learners. Online learning provides far more wider access than the traditional format could ever provide, without scaling costs.

Online learning needs a rethink of the process, rather than just having an offering online. That it is a better option for learner performance has been widely verified. That, is fairly beyond argument. Unless online learning is thought of as an alternative to traditional learning, it will continue to suffer the curse of not being disruptive enough.


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