Wednesday, February 8, 2012
Online education is not yet the disruptive innovation it needs to be: Looking through the lenses of "the job to be done".
The “job to be done” is one of the constructs that come out of Disruptive Innovation. I am not familiar with business management, so the recent panel discussion about technology was my introduction into the idea of disruptive innovation made popular by Clayton Christensen from Harvard Business School. By looking into how the rapid development of new products has allowed some companies to grow and thrive while others became obsolete, Christensen developed a new business concept. Basically, an inferior product can supplant a better product if it meets the job the consumer needs done. This is true in all sorts of industries, not just technology. Therefore, in this blog I will focus on the industry I am familiar with – online education.
As an early adopter of online education, I have enjoyed the challenge and excitement of finding a new way to reach students. The endless hours of teaching myself to solve common problems in new ways is fun and productive time. But I know that my peers do not share this joy – instead they resist.
When the computer first appeared on my desk, the technology frightened me and, along with most of the faculty, I felt resistance to learning how to use them. But I soon learned to use the new technology to do jobs that computers are good at. This was a disruptive innovation that eventually made typewriters obsolete. Faculty embraces online technology that improves their research and the ability to publish their work.
So, the question is: If the faculty who do not choose to teach in the online environment are not resisting the technology, why are there still so few of us adopters?
Before I go into more detail about how to look at this through the lenses of disruptive innovation, I would like to share a couple of YouTube clips. The first is probably the easiest visual representation of the “disruptive innovation” business concept. You can see it here: http://youtu.be/DaKgMcFP4Mo
The faculty who do not come to our presentations, the ones who ignore this blog and who even distrust online education are those “non-consumers” at the bottom of the diagram in this video. These faculty members are ripe for disruptive innovation.
The other YouTube video that I think is instructive belongs to 6-part series of Clayton Christensen as he explains his concept of the “job to be done” in a presentation to the 2009 ECS National Forum on Education Policy conference. The series starts with this clip: http://youtu.be/ddtBiOo7uME
The series is rather lengthy and if you want to skip through the introductions, set your curser around 8 minutes into the video. That is where Christensen introduces the concept of “job to be done.” This is the new concept I want to focus on because I think there needs to be a change in marketing online instruction to faculty who have not adopted the modality.
Just like in the “milkshake” example Christensen describes in the video, surveying the faculty for those things that would improve the online education product, is the wrong approach. Let me explain what I mean by this. We have a product: on-line education. And the consumer of that product: faculty with expertise to share. To market this product to this consumer, we have asked the question: “Why won’t more faculty learn to use these advances in education?” According to Christensen, that is the wrong question.
Instead, we need to ask: “What job does the faculty want the product to do?” It may seem obvious that faculty are interested in meeting the learning needs of a new generation of technology-savvy students. But is that true? I do not believe that is the job the faculty needs this product to do.
What jobs do faculty need done?
One job is to deliver information. How many years have we been saying, “The lecture is dead?” Yet, when we go to conventions, when we pay to hear guest speakers, what are they doing? How can we really believe the lecture is dead when it appears to be an effective way to deliver information? When I am standing in a classroom looking into the eyes of my students, I know I can deliver information. Sure, the online environment allows me to use different tools to deliver information, but why change what already works? It is no surprise that there is resistance to changing an age-old method of delivering information.
Another job is to evaluate student learning. Faculty sees the online teaching environment as particularly hazardous in this regard. There is an obsessive need to prevent the student from cheating. When I listen to faculty talk about on-line education I hear a lot about the many new ways students use technology to defraud the faculty. A major hurtle in getting faculty to accept and adopt online education is how to address this fear.
But the most important job that faculty wants done is to improve their use of time. I have talked to more than one faculty member who said to me, “I am hoping I will get to retire before I have to learn any more software programs.” When faculty members have to divide their time to conduct research, teach and give service to their community, where is the time to learn a new model and method of teaching? I think faculty are waiting for the product that produces time.
Simply put, the late adopters and non-adopters of online education are waiting for online education to do a job it is not now doing.
Posted by Cynthia at 2:42 PM