Disruptive Innovation Revisited

5 09 2004

I have looked a little closer at the concept of Disruptive Technology that I wrote about previously, with a focus on understanding it in relation to education.

What seems like the main emphasis in the theory about disruptive innovation is how organizations (expressed mostly as firms) can win market share by targeting customers with new and cheaper products. These products will then either undercut the incumbent company in the segment (type II innovation) or create a new market (type I innovation). In Disruption in Education by Clayton M. Christensen et al. I find that the concept of education and knowledge is to a large degree depicted as a commodity – hence it fits into the general framework of the theory.

This commodified view of knowledge is often used in conjunction with vocational training, and also when talking about distance education, and it seems like the view of education as a quest for commodifiable knowledge is dominant in the economic part of distance education discourse.

This knowledge-as-commodity paradigm clashes seriously with both enlightenment ideals as well as the Swedish tradition of peoples education where knowledge and schooling are seen as key routes to democracy and an egalitarian society – where education is seen as a political tool to shape society.

The question that arises is what role education should play in a democratic society. Should education be viewed as a democratic force in that it gives people the means to educate themselves to further their success in the workplace or should it be viewed as a democratic force that imbues certain values to the citizens? If education is seen as a means to attain economic success through skills acquisition disruptive innovation might serve as a useful concept for understanding dissemination of education. If education is seen in light of enlightenment traditions or people’s education the value of education lies not in its commodified value – rather it lies in a harder to measure democratic or egalitarian effects.

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