Disrupting Class: How Disruptive Innovation Will Change the Way the World Learns by Clayton M. Christensen

March 2012



The field of education and schooling is broad, varied, and complex.  To discern the research literature and to select salient practices that will make a significant difference in the performance of all learners is a mammoth task.  Clayton Christensen states that education research has several well-researched practices such as computers in the classroom, small class sizes, and project-based education.  As some of the studies note the success of these best practices, other studies negate the effectiveness in certain populations and simply denounce the previous findings. 


In Clayton’s book, he discusses how educators can use the practices of disrupted innovations to navigate the quagmire of educational research.  He concludes with strategies from the business industry that can offset some of the meanderings found in educational research.

  • Few reforms have addressed the root cause of students’ inability to learn.  And most attempts have been guided by misunderstanding of the root reasons for why the system functions as it does or how to predictably introduce innovation into it.  Without the guidance, we have been destined to struggle.  This also means, however, that we have an opportunity for great progress.
  • School reformers have repeatedly tried to bash the system and confront it head-on.  A major lesson from the studies of innovation is that disruptive innovation does not take root through the direct attack on the existing system.  Instead, it must circumvent the system.  In this way, disruption drives accessibility, affordability, capability, and responsiveness.
  • If we acknowledge that all students learn differently, then the way schooling is currently arranged will not allow the education of children in a customized way.  The system needs movement from a monolithic batch mode system where all students are taught the same things on the same day in the same way to a modular, individualized system.


Christensen states that disruptions such as charter schools and online learning are the pathways to unhinging what he calls the monolithic batch mode approach.  The future of education is customization and if traditional systems are not proactive, they will eventually find themselves outpaced, outsourced, or downsized.  After hearing Christensen’s presentation at a recent national convention, I was impressed with his copious, business-based examples of disruptive innovation.  I exited thinking that our current educational model for teacher preparation is a bit monolithic and that we need to create our own customized, boutique innovative disruptions. We often get bogged down with the thoughts of scalability which eclipse our visionary thinking.