On the way to Stansted to attend a conference a few days ago I found myself (in the car) listening to a BBC radio programme called ‘Breakfast with the disruptors’ in which someone who has disrupted an industry meets up with someone from that industry who has been ‘disrupted’. Like the winner and loser after a boxing match, I suppose
In case you are wondering, disruption is a buzzword around the business community. It describes a situation of either ‘high-end disruption’ (where some new product wipes out a product that people used to use – think digital vs Overhead projectors) or ‘low-end disruption’ (where someone comes up with a better, cheaper, easier or more efficient way of doing something – think old check-in desks vs online check-in and boarding cards on mobile devices). Those aren’t my terms. They come from a book by Clayton Christensen called ‘The Innovators Dilemma’. He points out that low-end disruption is by far the most dangerous, because if someone can come up with a business model that completely undercuts yours (both financially, emotionally and in convenience terms) you’ve had it.
My interest in disruption was first aroused by a plenary at the English Australia conference in Brisbane in November 2015. The speaker (it was a brilliant plenary) was Dom Thurbon; he showed the power of disruption with examples from around the world of business and invention. With reference to the demise of Kodak he came up with the mantra that ‘change is slow until it isn’t’ and then gave us examples of how people re-think what they do to try and stave off the danger of disruption. ‘In times of change’, he said ‘the primary driver of success was an ability (and willingness) to challenge assumptions’.
The question of course is whether the ELT ‘industry’ is vulnerable to disruption and in what way. Well for a start, it’s not as if people haven’t been trying to do this for some time now. The whole ‘adaptive learning’ industry (so ably tracked by Philip Kerr on his remarkable blog) has been trying to disrupt language teaching -without, it must be said, too much success so far; testing (and the teacher’s role in it) has been disrupted by computer grading. Meanwhile marketing and solutions expert (and speaker) Jacqueline Kassteen has been talking up disruption and suggesting ways that organisations can deal with this in terms of marketing, recruitment and delivery .
My own interest (for obvious reasons) is more methodological/pedagogic than anything else. For example is the grammar syllabus REALLY the best foundation for learning? Maybe Stephen Krashen is right and comprehensible input is the ONLY way people get language (although that is, not unsurprisingly, a somewhat controversial view)? Does the increasing popularity of CLIL suggest major pedagogic disruption? What about Sugata Mitra and his ideas of ‘minimally invasive education (MIE)? Or what about that school in Berlin where they just set students tasks – with little teaching (in the traditional sense? Perhaps it’s time to revisit TBL big time?
What do you think? Are we vulnerable? What assumptions would you challenge? What do YOU think is going to happen to us? Bye bye ELT?