Many years ago, Harvard Business School Professor Clayton Christensen developed the notion of disruptive technology: Technology that unobserved threatens the fundamental dominant technology in an industry, and quickly makes it obsolete. Now he and colleagues have applied this notion to education. In America, they note, faced with overwhelming constraints, schools are (under the radar, often unnoticed) innovating new models of schooling. 

The same, I believe, is happening in Israel. The vaunted “Ofek Hadash” (New Horizon) strategic innovation in Israel’s educational system was developed top-down, led by a consulting company, with little participation by teachers in the field. I spoke to some of those teachers. They showed glaring obvious flaws in Ofek Hadash, that could easily have been fixed had they participated in the formulation process. Despite this, innovative experimentation is going on in many schools. Problem is: There is a lack of a benchmarking process, in which great ideas spread rapidly from best-practice schools to mediocre ones.

Here is how Christensen (interviewed in Harvard Business School Working Knowledge) describes the process in America, whose schools are no less troubled than those in Israel:

…. on average, schools have done a better job adjusting to disruptions imposed upon them than have companies in the private sector. Our research shows that the classic signs of disruption are now occurring in the world of education, in the same ways they occur in the other contexts we have studied.

Computer-based or online learning is beginning to fill the void and plant itself and make inroads in the education system in classic disruptive fashion. Online learning has increased from 45,000 enrollments in 2000 to roughly 1 million in 2007, and shows signs of continuing to grow at an even more rapid pace.

Computer-based learning is an exciting disruption because it allows anyone to access a consistent quality learning experience; it is convenient since someone can take it virtually anywhere at any time; it allows a student to move through the material at any pace; it can customize for a student’s preferred learning style; and it is more affordable than the current school system.
In education, the tools of the software platform will make it so simple to develop online learning products that students will be able to build products that help them teach other students. Parents will be able to assemble tools to tutor their children. And teachers will be able to create tools to help the different types of learners in their classrooms. These instructional tools will look more like tutorial products than courseware initially. And rather than being “pushed” into classrooms through a centralized selection process, they will be pulled into use through self-diagnosis—by teachers, parents, and students who don’t have access to another tutoring option.

Can Israeli schools take up Christensen’s challenge and disrupt the misguided establishment’s “strategy”?