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Harvard professor Clayton Christensen, disruptive innovation and higher education

Renowned Harvard business professor and acclaimed author Clayton Christensen addressed the Higher Education Appropriations Subcommittee this morning in the Senate building at the Utah Capitol. A Utah native, Christensen is a world-renowned expert on how disruptive technologies alter entire industries.

Drawing instructive comparisons with the steel and technology sectors, Christensen specifically addressed the disruptions taking place in higher education and how legislators can work with higher ed to help it adapt and better educate students. Christensen said online learning is an essential component in the disruption that is taking place in education, an industry that has been highly resistant to disruption previous to the fairly recent advances in online learning.

For example, Christensen explains how the current model of education is integrated from top to bottom, meaning if you want to change one part of the model, you have to change the other parts of the model to fit. Using technology, education can move to a modular model in which a student can take a particular course, taught by the best professor in the world, and get credit for that course. Instead of accrediting only institutions, accreditation organizations would accredit individual courses. The student thereby receives the best, most appropriate education without the limitations and burdensome requirements of a linear, integrated education.

Christensen encourages higher ed institutions to become hybrids, offering both on-campus and online courses, noting that this move would “extend their runway” and help them to enhance their effectiveness and maintain their competitiveness in an increasingly open and à la carte education environment. Increasingly, the focus will be, as it should, on helping students meet their individual needs instead of requiring students to follow a rigid factory model.


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