Home > Uncategorized > Clay Christensen and Michael Horn Nudge Public Schools to Re-Think Their Delivery

Clay Christensen and Michael Horn Nudge Public Schools to Re-Think Their Delivery

October 9, 2018

I am a begrudging fan of Michael Horn and Clay Christensen who, unlike the privatizers, are advocates of disruption of delivery of public education, NOT the displacement of public schools by technology centered on-line learning.

A recent post by Michael Horn in the Clayton Christensen Institute’s weekly on-line newsletter led me to this conclusion. The post begins with a description of how WeWork is moving in the same direction as some former on-line businesses in developing a different model for public education. Noting that on-line retailers like Amazon, Warby Parker, and Bonobos are opening brick and mortar stores that have virtually no inventory but lots of computer terminals, WeWork’s development team has surmised that a similar model might work for education… and they are field testing with their latest partnership with, 2U, which Mr. Horn immodestly describes as “…the standout online program management company.”  And what is WeWork-2U up to?

the partnership allows 2U students to use WeWork’s office space as study halls, and the two companies will build a learning center together in 2019.

The place-based aspect of the partnership is what is so interesting, as it points to what will happen next with the disruptive innovation of online learning, namely how it will improve.

The future of online learning in higher education is in bricks, not just clicks. But these bricks won’t look like the gorgeous and overgrown college campuses we have today….

After a lengthy description of how on-line learning, like Amazon, is finding the middle ground in disruption, he concludes his article with this description of the WeWork-U2 partnership model:

WeWork offers 2U students a place to learn and a community with whom to learn and interact more broadly. Although many of 2U’s students were independently finding and connecting offline with others in their area before, 2U has now embedded that option as a feature, not an inconvenient arrangement that students had to construct on their own.

Importantly, WeWork and 2U are not recreating the sprawling campus environment of college with its traditional classrooms, dorms, grassy green quads, and recreational facilities. But they are offering an in-person environment in an experiment that could dramatically bolster engagement—and herald the future of online learning as it continues its disruptive march.

It isn’t difficult to foresee how arrangements like 2U could migrate into public education. Our local museum’s, galleries, and music studios are already doing something like 2U by bringing homeschooling students together to learn about science, the arts and humanities, to work on art projects and music performances together. When those kinds of options become more clearly known to parents it is not hard to foresee how more parents might opt out of their local public schools, especially if those schools are focussed exclusively on increasing test scores.

From my reading of Mr. Christensen’s book and his newsletter, it is not evident that he wants to undercut public schools. Indeed, when their book Disrupting Class was published when I was still working as a Superintendent, Mr. Christensen and Mr. Horn gave a presentation at our annual conference and Mr. Horn followed up with several visits to the state. Their ideas, unfortunately, did not gain traction in large measure because the risk of changing was too great: if a district went all in on disruption and the test scores did not go up the Superintendent and school board that advocated the change might not be around for long. But a careful reading of Mr. Horn and Mr. Christensen’s concepts leads me to the conclusion that they are inherently opposed to the factory model that standardized testing reinforces. Instead of believing that all children learn at the same rate, Mr. Horn and Mr. Christensen believe that all children learn when they are engaged in studying information they are interested in with groups of similarly engaged and interested cohorts. ASSUMING that is the case, it might be helpful for Mr. Christensen and Mr. Horn to advocate a total and complete disruption of schooling by advocating the elimination of age-based cohorts and replacing it with interest-based cohorts.

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