October, 2016

What higher ed can learn from disruptive innovation behaviour


Michael Flavin has published a thought provoking article in the Oxford Review of Economic Policy entitled entitled ‘Technology-enhanced learning and higher education’. In it, Flavin (2016) uses Disruptive Innovation (Christensen, 1997; Christensen and Raynor, 2003, Christensen et al., 2015) as a lens with which to examine current and emerging practice in technology-enhanced learning in higher education.

Flavin (2016) begins by suggesting that universities have been resilient to disruptive innovation, with technology being incorporated into existing pedagogies rather than enabling new pedagogic practices. In the article, and in my view, Michael Flavin convincingly argues that MOOCs are in fact a sustaining, rather than, disruptive innovation. A central tenant in the argument is that Disruptive Innovation gives rise to new forms of practice, rather than design, with simple and convenient technologies displacing powerful incumbents. Perhaps the emergence of intense boot camps for developers, offered by new entrants, costing c. £8,000 and running for 10-12 weeks, are closer to fulfilling Christensen’s definition of a Disruptive Innovation. A sobering thought.

The article concludes by offering suggestions as to how the sector might engage more constructively with disruptive technologies. It’s a thought provoking piece and well worth a read if your institution’s subscription permits.


Flavin, M. (2016) ‘Technology-enhanced learning and higher education’, Oxford Review of Economic Policy, Vol. 32, No. 4 , pp. 632–645. Available at: doi:10.1093/oxrep/grw028

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