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Data support disruption theory

There’s been quite a bit of buzz in the education world as of late about disruption theory – the idea that online and blended learning will move on from being novelties and eventually replace their competitors. According to a new survey, there’s data to support this theory as online and blended learning grow in popularity.

Using the state of California as a case study, education researchers from the California Learning Resource Network have found that 46 percent of respondents had students who participated in online or blended learning. In addition, 73 percent of unified and high school districts and charters said that they used this new approach to education.

The study also reported significant growth among online and blended learning populations across the country as a whole last year – an 18 percent increase between 2012 and 2013, to be exact. What do all these data mean? Blended learning is, in fact, a disruptive innovation.

In general, disruptive innovations begin at the bottom of the market, allowing an entirely new population of consumers (in this case, students) to access a product or service that was otherwise only available to those with significant amounts of money or skill. Disruptive innovations are typically simpler and more convenient, thereby completely transforming a sector, according to the Clayton Christensen Institute for Disruptive Learning.

In the case of the education sector, that disruptive innovation appears to be blended learning. In this hybrid classroom model, students spend part of their time participating in face-to-face interactions with their teachers, and another portion of their day using computers to receive online instruction through various programs, like adaptive learning software.

It’s an approach that has been embraced by a number of school districts across the nation. In California, Rocketship Education operates an entire network of charter schools that are dedicated to eliminating the achievement gap low-income students experience by using the blended learning model of instruction.

Students spend part of each day on computers in learning labs, which frees up time for teachers to focus on the academic needs of individual students. Rocketship has seen incredible results: 82 percent of its students obtained a proficient or advanced score on the math portion of the California Standards Test, which is on-par with the most affluent school districts in the state. The is a clear example of a shrinking achievement gap.

Rocketship is looking to expand its offerings to other states, like Indiana, which may speak to the growing popularity of the blended learning approach to education. Whether blended learning completely takes over the education market remains to be seen.

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