Another dot in the blogosphere?

What disruption?

Posted on: May 24, 2016

If you ask ten people what disruption means in education, you are likely to get ten varied responses.

The disruption they describe might be one of

  • Reach: More local or more global
  • Impact: Temporary or permanent
  • Duration: Short or long term
  • Extent: Surface/perceived or deep/actual

My list is not exhaustive. I have arranged the concepts to form the acronym RIDE because established systems have a way of riding out change.

MOOCs were and are still described as disruptive. However, they have not replaced universities.

In RIDE terms:

  • Reach: MOOCs are accessible largely to those who are already rich, qualified, and educated. With a few exceptions, this is nowhere near the original goal to provide more equitable access to education.
  • Impact: Investors rushed to fund MOOC initiatives, and even before they proved their mettle, MOOC providers had to find ways to stay afloat or become profitable [examples 1 2 3]. Their disruptive impact in terms of reinventing education was temporary although that can still change.
  • Duration: The year of the MOOC was 2012, and while early versions like cMOOCs were around earlier, the collective impact of MOOCs is still short term.
  • Extent: From a systemic point of view, its impact is superficial. Many universities have co-opted MOOCs and MOOC providers have felt the pressure to monetise and offer face-to-face meetings in university settings, e.g., libraries and learning circles.

In short, MOOCs do not always live up to their hype and do not blossom as expected.

Back when most people could not read, those that could read to those that could not. This was the earliest form of lecturing. The literate feared how the printing press could disrupting lecturing.

Today some might argue that their lecturers are still just reading, but with PowerPoint instead. If you consider the number of lecture theatres in institutes of higher learning and lecturing as the go-to strategy, you might question if the printing press and reading was enough to disrupt lecturing.

When a change agent or process bumps into a system, it is tempting to call it disruptive. Like our own digestive system, social systems can reject, assimilate, or accommodate the change.

  • An input can be ejected from either or both ends of the alimentary canal.
  • The input can be broken down and absorbed into existing sub-systems.
  • Or the input can be partly taken in and partly ejected.

That is how established systems RIDE out the change. There are very few changes that are truly disruptive: Global in nature, permanent, long term, and deep to the extent of becoming a culture of practice.

From a superficial perspective, ride sharing (e.g., Uber), ultrashort-term rentals (e.g., Airbnb), and music streaming (e.g., Spotify), are disruptive. They challenge local laws and accepted practice. They make some people very unhappy and sometimes this incites protests.

While some practices have changed, e.g., lower ownership of personal cars, less dependance on hotels, no more archiving of music files, these are not necessarily evidence of systemic disruption because people are still travelling in cars, renting places to stay, and listening to music.

Can we talk about MOOCs, coding camps, or apps disrupting schooling or education?

You might think yes if you look at the ripples the pebble causes when chucked into still waters. The same pebble that disappears into the water and the water whose stillness returns.

I say no. Not as long as we still cling on to legacy concepts and practices like curriculum in silos, academic levels, classrooms as physical-only environments, tests for gatekeeping, etc. These are sub-systems that help the status quo RIDE things out.

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