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Education Reporter

Experts Predict 50% of High School Courses Will Be Online
An important new book posits that the internet is just beginning to transform K-12 education. If online learning follows the trend set by major innovations in other industries, it will take a sharp upturn in popularity in about four years. By the year 2019, half of all high school course enrollment will be online, the authors predict.

The book, Disrupting Class: How Disruptive Innovation Will Change the Way the World Learns, analyzes similar "disruptive innovations" in the worlds of computers, electronics, retail, and other industries. Lead author Clayton M. Christensen teaches in the business school of Harvard University and has published two other bestselling books on innovation. Disruptive innovations, says Christensen, tend to displace the industry frontrunners and allow upstart companies to become the new leaders. The upstarts have more freedom to experiment with the innovation and to find new markets for new products and services. Industry leaders, on the other hand, are more locked into the infrastructure that was in place before the innovation.

In the case of online learning, traditional public schooling is the established leader in the field of education, while companies providing online curriculum, private tutoring, and online opportunities for homeschooled and other students are the upstarts.

According to the authors, industry leaders typically "cram down" innovations onto what they are already doing. Rather than reinventing what they do based on the new technology, they attempt to add the new technology without changing their basic approach. Traditional schools have "crammed down" online learning and computer technology onto what they already do, but Christensen doesn't think they can reinvent themselves thoroughly enough to stay far ahead of the upstarts.

"The schools as they are now structured cannot do it," said Christensen in an interview with Education Week. "Even the best managers in the world, if they were heads of departments in schools and the administrators of schools, could not do it."

As traditional schools fail to adapt, the authors predict that upstart companies will offer more and better educational options, attracting greater numbers of students from traditional schools.

The book also suggests that public schools or other established school organizations could adapt by spinning off subsystems that would build themselves upon the foundation of the disruptive innovation of online learning. "Whenever an industry gets disrupted," says Christensen, "people always consume more, because it's more affordable, it's simpler, easier to access, to customize what they need. What a wonderful thing, that we would consume more education."

Perhaps online learning will broaden opportunities for students of a variety of backgrounds and interests, and stimulate growth and improvement across the entire system of American education. (Education Week, 5-7-08)

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