I’ve been reading a lot about disruption lately in the context of higher education– disruptive technology, disruptive innovation, and disrupt more generally as a verb – and I’m trying to figure out if disruption is a good thing or a bad thing.
According to Merriam-Webster , disrupt is a verb that means to “break apart” or “to interrupt the normal course or unity of.” So, at first glance, it might seem that disruption is a bad thing in that it tends to break or interrupt. We certainly don’t want to see higher education become broken, right? But, depending on who you talk to, higher education is already broken and certainly from that perspective, a little disruption might actually be a good thing.
Disruptive innovation is the topic of a recent report released by the Center for American Progress, A ‘Disruptive’ Look at Competency-Based Education. In this report, Louis Soares examines how the innovative use of technology can transform the education experience for students using “the lens of ‘disruptive innovation,’ a business theory that considers how technology can change an organization, sector, or industry.”
According to the author, there are four interrelated elements that must be included in order for disruptive innovation to be possible: a technology enabler (a transformed business process that can be performed by computer software), a business model change (so that customers receive a more affordable and convenient product or service), a new value network (ability to connect with other businesses that offer complementary services), and standards (to define how the industry operates). Soares offers an evaluation of each of these elements to determine if they are present for competency-based education.
He concludes that the technology and business model elements currently exist, however, the value network remains underdeveloped due to the lack of “a common set of agreed upon standards, both educational and technological, detailing how a new cohort of educational providers would integrate their offerings.” He cites two examples of the beginning of standards - the Degree Qualifications Profile and the Manufacturing Skills Certification System. His final conclusion provides hope for those who want to see competency-based education come to fruition indicating that this analysis “clearly demonstrates that competency-based education does have the potential to be a disruptive innovation in postsecondary education” and he further states that “the technologies, organizational experimentation, and standards are coalescing in ways that make competency-based education a potential game changer in the delivery and affordability of postsecondary education.”
So, back to my original quandary, is disruption a good thing or a bad thing? In this instance, I believe the development of competency-based education can indeed disrupt our current model of higher education in a positive direction. For students, competencies with clearly defined and accepted standards enable learning to be documented no matter how the student obtains the skills. By providing “courses” that are available using technologies such as on-line delivery systems, people can pursue their educational goals no matter where they are and no matter what type of schedules they require making it easier to juggle the other demands many face such as family and work commitments. These types of courses can also be offered at affordable rates making access to quality education more broadly available. For employers, competency-based education provides a much clearer expectation for what potential employees know and can do since the standards would be recognized no matter where or how the individual attained them (i.e., via work experiences or formal training and education). If employers are included in the development of these standards, the process can be even more useful.
Is disruption a bad thing? Tell us what you think.
Academic Training & Consulting