higher ed

Disrupting disruption

David Kernohan likes to joke that he has a disruption klaxon that sounds whenever that over-used term is deployed. It must have sounded like a nuclear attack warning when reading this educause piece (which he pointed me at, and which Pat Lockley gives the perfect, hilarious response to). Now, I’ll confess, I’ve used the D word in the past. I liked Christensen’s first book, it was well researched and well argued. But like so many concepts it has been misapplied to the point where it is meaningless.

If you are about to employ a consultant, particularly in education, I will offer you this money-saving advice for free: don’t look at one that uses the word ‘disruption’ (or, even worse, describes themselves as a ‘disruptor’).

Disruptors are not concerned about your specific problem, they only have blanket solutions. They don’t worry about making something useful, only about sounding revolutionary. Disruption is about ego. You see disruption appeals to people because it’s revolutionary, elite, new, sexy. Just being useful or practical looks all dowdy besides glamorous disruption.

So, everything has to be disruptive, a game-changer, a revolution, an all-encompassing tsunami of change. It can’t just be useful in a particular context. That educause piece judges OERs a failure precisely because they are not disruptive. That tells you more about the author than it does about OERs – in their world only disruption matters. Take the OER based TESSA project. Useful? Undoutedly. Disruptive? Probably not. So, who cares about it, right? We should aim higher than getting well paid speaking gigs for middle-aged men with goatees who skateboard to work.

Any educational technology advance in the past 15 years will have been claimed to be disruptive by someone: elearning, learning objects, VLEs, OERs, games, MOOCs. The thing is all of these are very useful for particular problems. But if they ain’t disruptive they’re no good.

So this is my motto from now on: don’t be disruptive, be useful.

Last thought – whenever I hear disruption, it is not David’s klaxon that plays in my head, but Mitchell and Webb’s NumberWang, except it is now “DisruptionWang”. Try it, you’ll find it makes as much sense.


UPDATE: DisruptionWang is sweeping the nation. You can now get the t-shirt (courtesy of David Kernohan)

One Comment

  • Sukainaw

    Thanks for this and a useful check.I think I am guilty of seeing ‘disruptive’ as generally a good thing in the sense of it generating creative tension leading to expansion (in the Activity Theory sense). But useful is…well useful.
    Hee hee, I love the line ‘We should aim higher than getting well paid speaking gigs for middle-aged men with goatees who skateboard to work.’ Forewarned is forearmed!

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