As Clayton Christensen and Michael Horn argued in Disrupting Class, insufficient money, the teachers’ unions, and large classroom size, all relevant issues, are not the root cause of our schools’ troubles. The real problem lies in the effects standardized education has had on a student’s internal and external motivation. As the authors point out, “When education is well aligned with one’s stronger intelligences, aptitudes, or styles, understanding can come more easily and with greater enthusiasm.” And as the Khan Academy has demonstrated, teachers can serve as professional coaches and content architects to help students progress in ways that they never could under most current models. Students display much more enthusiasm when they can self-direct their learning paths.
Many school districts in small, rural, and urban markets that do not have access to the breath of education available in more resource plenty areas will pull humanities, arts, economics, Chinese, and quality A.P. courses into their offerings to satisfy students’ unmet needs. We predict the online education movement will advance the same way that disruptive innovators have succeeded: by serving markets that are too costly or impossible for the incumbents to pursue, and then gradually moving “up-market.” Targeting non-consumers creates less backlash from teachers’ unions and administrators, and could even generate student referrals from incumbents themselves.