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Failure to Disrupt: Why Technology Alone Can't Transform Education

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A leader in educational technology separates truth from hype, explaining what tech can--and can't--do to transform our classrooms. Proponents of large-scale learning have boldly promised that technology can disrupt traditional approaches to schooling, radically accelerating learning and democratizing education. Much-publicized experiments, often underwritten by Silicon Vall A leader in educational technology separates truth from hype, explaining what tech can--and can't--do to transform our classrooms. Proponents of large-scale learning have boldly promised that technology can disrupt traditional approaches to schooling, radically accelerating learning and democratizing education. Much-publicized experiments, often underwritten by Silicon Valley entrepreneurs, have been launched at elite universities and in elementary schools in the poorest neighborhoods. Such was the excitement that, in 2012, the New York Times declared the "year of the MOOC." Less than a decade later, that pronouncement seems premature. In Failure to Disrupt: Why Technology Alone Can't Transform Education, Justin Reich delivers a sobering report card on the latest supposedly transformative educational technologies. Reich takes readers on a tour of MOOCs, autograders, computerized "intelligent tutors," and other educational technologies whose problems and paradoxes have bedeviled educators. Learning technologies--even those that are free to access--often provide the greatest benefit to affluent students and do little to combat growing inequality in education. And institutions and investors often favor programs that scale up quickly, but at the expense of true innovation. It turns out that technology cannot by itself disrupt education or provide shortcuts past the hard road of institutional change. Technology does have a crucial role to play in the future of education, Reich concludes. We still need new teaching tools, and classroom experimentation should be encouraged. But successful reform efforts will focus on incremental improvements, not the next killer app.


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A leader in educational technology separates truth from hype, explaining what tech can--and can't--do to transform our classrooms. Proponents of large-scale learning have boldly promised that technology can disrupt traditional approaches to schooling, radically accelerating learning and democratizing education. Much-publicized experiments, often underwritten by Silicon Vall A leader in educational technology separates truth from hype, explaining what tech can--and can't--do to transform our classrooms. Proponents of large-scale learning have boldly promised that technology can disrupt traditional approaches to schooling, radically accelerating learning and democratizing education. Much-publicized experiments, often underwritten by Silicon Valley entrepreneurs, have been launched at elite universities and in elementary schools in the poorest neighborhoods. Such was the excitement that, in 2012, the New York Times declared the "year of the MOOC." Less than a decade later, that pronouncement seems premature. In Failure to Disrupt: Why Technology Alone Can't Transform Education, Justin Reich delivers a sobering report card on the latest supposedly transformative educational technologies. Reich takes readers on a tour of MOOCs, autograders, computerized "intelligent tutors," and other educational technologies whose problems and paradoxes have bedeviled educators. Learning technologies--even those that are free to access--often provide the greatest benefit to affluent students and do little to combat growing inequality in education. And institutions and investors often favor programs that scale up quickly, but at the expense of true innovation. It turns out that technology cannot by itself disrupt education or provide shortcuts past the hard road of institutional change. Technology does have a crucial role to play in the future of education, Reich concludes. We still need new teaching tools, and classroom experimentation should be encouraged. But successful reform efforts will focus on incremental improvements, not the next killer app.

30 review for Failure to Disrupt: Why Technology Alone Can't Transform Education

  1. 5 out of 5

    Jen

    Easy to read critique of edtech's savior complex. Easy to read critique of edtech's savior complex.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Steve

    The book is reasonably technical with lots of references, but quite understandable by a layman. Although I was somewhat involved in Computer-Assisted Instruction in the lat 1970's early 1980's (when Justin was just learning to walk and type (not at the same time), my knowledge of what I was doing was limited. Justin puts forward those questions that educators need to ask themselves regarding new technologies that I never asked myself. It is encouraging that people are still trying to integrate t The book is reasonably technical with lots of references, but quite understandable by a layman. Although I was somewhat involved in Computer-Assisted Instruction in the lat 1970's early 1980's (when Justin was just learning to walk and type (not at the same time), my knowledge of what I was doing was limited. Justin puts forward those questions that educators need to ask themselves regarding new technologies that I never asked myself. It is encouraging that people are still trying to integrate technology into our educational system, but I agree with Justin that incremental steps at improvement will result. This is not a book that parents will read, but they should, especially after the pandemic to see why online technology failed in so many ways. A good follow-up book would be what went wrong and maybe, if any, what went right during the pandemic of 2020. Extremely well-written, and as mentioned, understandable by the layman. Keep a dictionary close by. The use of the "I" narrative makes the author relatable.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Aaron Schumacher

    As is especially salient during a pandemic, "technology alone can't transform education." Reich's book nicely wraps up the most recent edtech hype cycle, which I was more optimistic about at the time. Reich thinks we have to keep tinkering toward utopia. I mostly agree with Reich, except that now I tend to put more weight on knowledge à la Hirsch, and I still have hope for the application of tools like Anki in educational settings. As is especially salient during a pandemic, "technology alone can't transform education." Reich's book nicely wraps up the most recent edtech hype cycle, which I was more optimistic about at the time. Reich thinks we have to keep tinkering toward utopia. I mostly agree with Reich, except that now I tend to put more weight on knowledge à la Hirsch, and I still have hope for the application of tools like Anki in educational settings.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Matthew

    I read this book based on the excellent review by Dr. Barbara Oakley, creator of the highly recommended (and free) Learning how to Learn online course (go to Coursera and sign up!). The book likely has a narrow audience: it deals with the failure of technology to live up to the promised hype to improve/disrupt school education. (The Kahn Academy, as great as it is, has not gone on to take over the world, for example) I found it particularly topical given the COVID-19 pandemic school closures havin I read this book based on the excellent review by Dr. Barbara Oakley, creator of the highly recommended (and free) Learning how to Learn online course (go to Coursera and sign up!). The book likely has a narrow audience: it deals with the failure of technology to live up to the promised hype to improve/disrupt school education. (The Kahn Academy, as great as it is, has not gone on to take over the world, for example) I found it particularly topical given the COVID-19 pandemic school closures having lead to mass school closure and pursuit of "online education". The book is well written, extremely well researched, cogent, and articulate. For those interested in the topic, give it a go.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Kelsey

    A fantastic read for anyone interested in education technology. In the first half of the book, Justin Reich describes the different genres of education technology used in large-scale learning, as well as the benefits and limitations of each genre. In the second half of the book, he discusses the barriers and fallacies of large-scale learning and explains why education technology alone cannot significantly transform the education landscape. The ideas in this book are well organized and clearly arti A fantastic read for anyone interested in education technology. In the first half of the book, Justin Reich describes the different genres of education technology used in large-scale learning, as well as the benefits and limitations of each genre. In the second half of the book, he discusses the barriers and fallacies of large-scale learning and explains why education technology alone cannot significantly transform the education landscape. The ideas in this book are well organized and clearly articulated. They gave me a useful framework to see past the hype and instead to use a critical lens to assess different types of educational technology.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Leonardo Longo

    Justin Reich presents a super realistic and fact based approach to contrast the hype of transformative educational technologies. The author presents the state of affairs of MOOCs, autograders, computerized “intelligent tutors,” and other educational technologies. It is perfectly explained that technology cannot by itself disrupt education or provide shortcuts past the hard road of institutional change, having a crucial role to play as we still need new teaching tools, and classroom experimentati Justin Reich presents a super realistic and fact based approach to contrast the hype of transformative educational technologies. The author presents the state of affairs of MOOCs, autograders, computerized “intelligent tutors,” and other educational technologies. It is perfectly explained that technology cannot by itself disrupt education or provide shortcuts past the hard road of institutional change, having a crucial role to play as we still need new teaching tools, and classroom experimentation.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Cesar Cossio

    Muy enfocado a aspectos que tienen que ver con tecnologías educativas. Un libro muy especializado. Creo que abarca mucho los temas sobre porque la tecnología no ha revolucionado la educación, a pesar de todas las opciones tecnológicas que hay. Creo que se queda corto en propuestas, es más una revisión de porque (bien ejemplificado y argumentado) todavía no se llega a esa revolución. Bien para saber del tema pero queda ganas de un poco más de propuesta sobre que si se puede mejorar. Esta frase englo Muy enfocado a aspectos que tienen que ver con tecnologías educativas. Un libro muy especializado. Creo que abarca mucho los temas sobre porque la tecnología no ha revolucionado la educación, a pesar de todas las opciones tecnológicas que hay. Creo que se queda corto en propuestas, es más una revisión de porque (bien ejemplificado y argumentado) todavía no se llega a esa revolución. Bien para saber del tema pero queda ganas de un poco más de propuesta sobre que si se puede mejorar. Esta frase engloba un poco el sentir: “If you are hoping that new technologies will be able to radically accelerate human development, the conclusion that change happens incrementally is probably a disappointment. But if you think that global human development is a game of inches—a slow, complex, maddening, plodding process with two steps back for every three steps forward—then Wikipedia is about as good as it gets”

  8. 5 out of 5

    Fifi

    'In reality, it is community, not technology, that offers the best chance of changing practice in schools.' #DeZinVanHetBoek #ThePointOfTheBook 'In reality, it is community, not technology, that offers the best chance of changing practice in schools.' #DeZinVanHetBoek #ThePointOfTheBook

  9. 5 out of 5

    Melanie

    I mostly skimmed this one, because after living it, it feels more redundant than it would have otherwise. Talks about MOOCs and algorithm-guided learning at scale, and why they haven't had the stunning results in education as originally expected. MOOC experiments have gone on to show that MOOCs are beneficial to the motivated, relatively wealthy, and already educated. This seems to be true with most virtual learning systems as we've seen recently. Those who have access and interest will excel, a I mostly skimmed this one, because after living it, it feels more redundant than it would have otherwise. Talks about MOOCs and algorithm-guided learning at scale, and why they haven't had the stunning results in education as originally expected. MOOC experiments have gone on to show that MOOCs are beneficial to the motivated, relatively wealthy, and already educated. This seems to be true with most virtual learning systems as we've seen recently. Those who have access and interest will excel, and those who lack interest, ability, and appropriate assistance will flounder. Rather than, for example, helping enhance educational outcomes for disadvantaged/remote populations, educational technology helps those who are already succeeding/excelling. [For grins, I've taken a few MOOCs over the years through both Coursera and EdX, and while I learned a bit, they were definitely a lot more watered down than the actual classes at Yale/MIT/Cornell would have been. Think two 15-minute videos and 5 multiple-choice completion problems in a week, no outside reading. In another case I signed up for a class that never happened as scheduled and was abruptly rescheduled in a manner that weirdly compressed the timeline so that half the not-yet-assigned work was already due. I think they had technical problems because I reached out to the instructor and never heard back. At any rate, after an experience like that, I would never trust the validity of a purchased certification for a class. I also noticed that the attrition rate in classes, even those with set timelines, is terrible. Probably a lot of the students are just looky-loos, but it might be disheartening to see 75000 people enroll in a class with maybe 3200 of them actually finishing (as few as it is, it's *still* too many to grade individual written assignments). ]

  10. 5 out of 5

    Supriyo Chaudhuri

    This is a balanced review of education technology and the associated claims of 'disrupting' education. The author researches MOOCs at MIT and his insider knowledge is evident. But the great value of this book comes from a historically informed presentation of the challenges of education change and how Edtech attempts - but often comes up short - to transform learning and deliver better outcomes. I have learnt a lot from reading this: It's not just about different tools and approaches, but also ab This is a balanced review of education technology and the associated claims of 'disrupting' education. The author researches MOOCs at MIT and his insider knowledge is evident. But the great value of this book comes from a historically informed presentation of the challenges of education change and how Edtech attempts - but often comes up short - to transform learning and deliver better outcomes. I have learnt a lot from reading this: It's not just about different tools and approaches, but also about different practices, like cMOOC, which I have used (but didn't have a theoretical language to explain what I was doing). I feel my new year's day was very well spent reading this book and would recommend this to everyone who may be interested in educational practice and/or edtech. The book offers extensive notes, but I would have preferred a bibliography. This perhaps shows how successful the book has been in kindling my interest on the subject.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Deborah Quazzo

    This book is a disappointment. Rather than rehash 10 year old edtech failures by specific entrepreneurs and groups and focused on a small number of clearly personal success stories, this book could have been so much more. Why not start by framing the absolute failure of our current k12 system to support students - especially poor students - at scale. Our kids are not being prepared to participate in the future so rather than hurl pot shots at unique situations, how about doing more research and This book is a disappointment. Rather than rehash 10 year old edtech failures by specific entrepreneurs and groups and focused on a small number of clearly personal success stories, this book could have been so much more. Why not start by framing the absolute failure of our current k12 system to support students - especially poor students - at scale. Our kids are not being prepared to participate in the future so rather than hurl pot shots at unique situations, how about doing more research and lift up examples of success in the US and in other countries like India - a county whose edtech sector is rapidly eclipsing the US. China having already achieved that. Schadenfreude is not going to transform the millions of students being left behind by our current system.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Piet

    Investigation of the merit of technological innovations for education purposes. Main message: the technology alone has not led to revolutions when they were widely predicted in the past (the most striking example are MOOCs), and are not likely to do so in the future. Well researched and does contain some eye-openers. I would have perhaps liked a bit more of a psychological perspective: what exactly is it about student-teacher interaction that technology can not replace? But I though it is a shar Investigation of the merit of technological innovations for education purposes. Main message: the technology alone has not led to revolutions when they were widely predicted in the past (the most striking example are MOOCs), and are not likely to do so in the future. Well researched and does contain some eye-openers. I would have perhaps liked a bit more of a psychological perspective: what exactly is it about student-teacher interaction that technology can not replace? But I though it is a sharp and informative book, even if it is a bit repetitive at times.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Lindsay Bolender

    This didn’t really answer what I expected it to, and the author missed the mark sometimes, but it wasn’t terrible. It’s written from a pretty biased perspective, but the research insights and implications are worth thinking about. I found the chapter on gaming to be most forward-relevant since there are a lot of non-ed stakeholders pushing it as our next big solution.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Shayantan Rahman

    Must read for those interested in education technology Really well written. This book was eye opening and a sobering reminder to not get carried away by enthusiastic declarations that elearning is revolutionising our education systems

  15. 5 out of 5

    Kyle

    Absolute must read for anyone working around EdTech. Billions of dollars and thousands of wasted hours would be saved if investors, entrepreneurs, designers, teachers, principals and others were familiar with the history of hype in this domain.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Kwuang

    Anyone interested in working in edtech should definitely read this. TL;DR; - change is really hard (scaling is hard, measuring is hard, fixing systemic issues is hard), technology can't really solve the deep deep issues in education, mostly just hopes to get around it and have limited impact Anyone interested in working in edtech should definitely read this. TL;DR; - change is really hard (scaling is hard, measuring is hard, fixing systemic issues is hard), technology can't really solve the deep deep issues in education, mostly just hopes to get around it and have limited impact

  17. 5 out of 5

    Michelle Chan

    After reading the book, I am now a cautious optimist when it comes to education technology. It is still possible that a small shift can "tip" the whole balance in the scene though. After reading the book, I am now a cautious optimist when it comes to education technology. It is still possible that a small shift can "tip" the whole balance in the scene though.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Rod Van Meter

    The best technology-in-society book I've read in years, perhaps ever. The best technology-in-society book I've read in years, perhaps ever.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Tuan Anh Le

    Good overview of the edtech space though the author is a bit unnecessarily negative.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Kat

    A very consumable read on why adding technology alone isn’t sufficient to transform the education system. I found the themes and experiments mentioned both up-to-date and eye opening.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Bhairav Mehta

    Really nice collection of resources and history regarding education technology.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Leila

    3.5 stars. Includes interesting information (i.e., online education isn't as democratizing as we think it is) but got a bit repetitive especially towards the end. 3.5 stars. Includes interesting information (i.e., online education isn't as democratizing as we think it is) but got a bit repetitive especially towards the end.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Miguel Panão

    An unexpected and delightful take of the effect of technology on teaching and learning. A must read to understand how time and step-by-step is a slow, but rightful way to evolve in learning.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Adam

    Cataloging and explaining the limits of technology's impact on failing to transform education, the book decisions why as much or more enthusiasm should be spent towards systems of education as much as the presumed panacea of technology Cataloging and explaining the limits of technology's impact on failing to transform education, the book decisions why as much or more enthusiasm should be spent towards systems of education as much as the presumed panacea of technology

  25. 5 out of 5

    Gordon Sandford

  26. 4 out of 5

    John

  27. 5 out of 5

    Mitte Schroeven

  28. 4 out of 5

    Andrew Dunn

  29. 4 out of 5

    Heather

  30. 4 out of 5

    George Seabridge

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