Handling Disruptive Innovations in HE : Lessons from Two Contrasting Case Studies

For a long time we have been thinking about why our curriculum innovations in higher education institutions (HEI) take off or not, and this is our attempt at an explanation; ‘Handling Disruptive Innovations in HE : Lessons from Two Contrasting Case Studies‘.

We examined our experiences in two different HEI of implementing the same curriculum innovation of the work-focussed model of learning, one successfully and the other, more recent, far less so. In brief, the work-focussed model is: an undergraduate degree; has curriculum focus determined by the student’s inquiry focus; uses action research as teaching/learning approach; is support through online communities of inquiry; and has academic tutors in the role of facilitators.

Clayton Christensen theory of disruptive innovation was used as an analytical framework, and we conclude that there was strong evidence for the proposition that institutions “have strong inbuilt filters that weed out any innovation proposals that do not directly enhance the current products or services they offer to their existing markets.”  In our first successful incarnation of the work-focussed model, we operated from a semi-autonomous sub-unit and has such had a high degree of flexibility and control over our business processes and functions (marketing, technology used, teaching practices, etc.), whilst in the second case these were far more geared towards institutional norms and we found that these severely hampered the development of the new provision as the existing products win the resource battle and seek to maintain established ways of working.

The take away lesson is that for curriculum innovations to be successful, institutions need to “put in place the appropriate structural and governance arrangements that will enable them to flourish rather than get killed off.”

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