The Clayton Christensen Institute, formerly Innosight Institute, has published three papers describing the rise of K−12 blended learning–that is, formal education programs that combine online learning and brick-and-mortar schools. This fourth paper is the first to analyze blended learning through the lens of disruptive innovation theory to help people anticipate and plan for the likely effects of blended learning on the classrooms of today and schools of tomorrow. The paper includes the following sections.
Introduction to sustaining and disruptive innovation
There are two basic types of innovation–sustaining and disruptive–that follow different trajectories and lead to different results. Sustaining innovations help leading, or incumbent, organizations make better products or services that can often be sold for better profits to their best customers. They serve existing customers according to the original definition of performance– that is, according to the way the market has historically defined what’s good. A common misreading of the theory of disruptive innovation is that disruptive innovations are good and sustaining innovations are bad. This is false. Sustaining innovations are vital to a healthy and robust sector, as organizations strive to make better products or deliver better services to their best customers.
Disruptive innovations, in contrast, do not try to bring better products to existing customers in established markets. Instead, they offer a new definition of what’s good–typically they are simpler, more convenient, and less expensive products that appeal to new or less demanding customers. Over time, they improve enough to intersect with the needs of more demanding customers, thereby tranforming a sector. Examples in the paper from several industries demonstrate the classic patterns of both types of innovation.