Every investor and education entrepreneur should read this book


Considering the time and the intellectual and real capital invested each year in educational technology, it is incomprehensible how little entrepreneurs, investors and second-rate viewers know about the history or day-to-day use of the technology. technology in education.

Very few understand, by way of example, that education is just not likely to disrupt the way some markets can. They miss this truth because they don’t understand that education is not a market or, at the very least, they misunderstand what is bought and sold. Likewise, they routinely and predictably forget that in almost every instance what they build and invest is not new but recycled, failing to repeatedly disrupt, democratize, or expand education. before.

That’s why I joked for years that my dream job was to review educational technology proposals and help venture capitalists save their money. I would be happy with 10% of anything I reserve for them. Now, however, edtech investors and enterprise architects and columnists can even save the money they would spend on me.

Instead, they can just read Failure to disrupt, “ the new book from Justin Reich, director of the Teaching Systems Lab at MIT. Or, better yet, just read the introduction and conclusion. These 30 or so pages are perhaps the most important reading for anyone interested in, or thinks about, edtech.

In a few dozen pages, Reich exposes the embarrassing cycle of copied ideas, the massive hype, the huge waste of funding and the broken promises of edtech – why so many innovations and companies only find use. drastically reduced and progressive, leaving education fundamentally undisturbed and again.

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In one example, Reich quotes Thomas Edison in a 1913 interview: “Books will soon be obsolete in public schools,” Edison said. “It is possible to teach all branches of human knowledge with cinema. Our schools will be completely transformed in 10 years. ”

More importantly, Reich emphasizes that deadlines and promises are fading, but ideas do not disappear. Reich notes the very popular and influential 2011 TED talk by Salman Kahn, the founder of Kahn Academy. The idea of ​​escape may sound familiar. His signature speech was titled “Using Video to Reinvent Education”. Kahn became a media and fundraising darling and, writes Reich, landed on the covers of Wired, Time and TBEN.

But after Khan opened a real physical school, Reich quotes Kahn in neglected 2019 interview. District administration magazine, “Now that I run a school, I see that some things are not as easy to accomplish as they seem theoretically.”

Everyone has seen the headline from the hype. No one saw when reality struck – when, as Reich said, “a growing vision met the complex reality of schools. [and] disruption and transformation have given way to accommodation.

It is a model that we have seen before.

Another example cited by Reich is Sebastian Thurn, one of the fathers of MOOC – the massive, open, online course that was also supposed to revolutionize and democratize education. The hype was so intense that the New York Times famous for declaring 2012 “Year of the MOOC”. But in November 2013, Reich quotes Thurn as saying, “We were on the front pages of newspapers and magazines and, and at the same time, I realized that we are not educating people the way other people want or want. We have a poor product.

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History has confirmed it. As most now know, MOOCs were unsuccessful. They certainly did not disturb. And so on.

Throughout his book, Reich also rightly points out that “when new educational technologies fail to meet their high expectations, a common rhetorical movement is to assert that not enough time has passed for that the true effects… be revealed. For example, Reich says that “when Edison’s ten-year prediction didn’t come true, he just gave himself more time. In 1923, ten years after his initial prediction, Edison predicted the obsolescence of textbooks “in 20 years.”

Reich also usefully quotes a few more recent forecast flops. “In 2008,” he begins, “Clayton Christenson, along with colleagues Michael Horn and Curtis Johnson, released Disruptive class, a book about online learning and the future of K-12 schools. They predicted that by 2019, half of all middle and high school courses will be replaced with online options and that “ the cost will be a third of current costs and the courses will be much better. ”

Likewise, as I and others have written, when the same group predicted in 2011 that half of all colleges would close by 2025, those who knew the history of such bold claims were skeptical. But the headlines still followed. The achievement did not. Even their “more measured and nuanced prediction” that “the poorest 25%” of colleges “will disappear or merge in the next 10 to 15 years” have yet to materialize, more than seven years after their creation.

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This is not to delve into the many bad predictions of disruption or creative destruction in education. This is because, as Reich eloquently and diligently describes, these failures, these failures to be disrupted were, and are, quite obvious.

“Much of what Khan Academy discovered in 2019 about teaching computer-assisted mathematics, after more than $ 100 million in philanthropic investments,” Reich wrote, “could have been found in academic papers published in the 1990s.

Likewise, knowledge of the history of distance education in colleges, radio and public television course programs would have made it clear that MOOCs and other online programs were not going to disrupt much.

Even with all of this, Reich is optimistic about the power of data and technology to advance education. He just sees it happening gradually, in subtle nudges here and there instead of going through the headline-grabbing reforms so many people predict breathlessly, baseless.

It offers questions that educators, investors and entrepreneurs should ask about any “new” technology or educational promise. Reich also points out significant dangers like this, no matter how much they are intended and designed to do otherwise, most educational technology actually accelerates the existing gaps in privilege and access – exactly what we have. seen to occur during this recent addiction to educational technology during Covid. -19.

Failure to disrupt is a must read for those invested in education as well as for those interested in education. Those who do not read at least the opening and the closing are, as they say, doomed to repeat history. And continue to waste their time and money.



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