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Blended: Using Disruptive Innovation to Improve Schools

reviewed by Charles R. Graham, Curtis R. Henrie & Lisa R. Halverson - September 22, 2015

coverTitle: Blended: Using Disruptive Innovation to Improve Schools
Author(s): Michael B. Horn, Heather Staker & Clayton M. Christensen
Publisher: Jossey-Bass Publishers, San Francisco
ISBN: 1118955153, Pages: 336, Year: 2014
Search for book at Amazon.com


So what can K-12 administrators and educators learn from two Harvard MBA graduates? Potentially quite a bit if we are willing to read carefully and consider critically what they have to say about school-level adoption of blended learning.

In the book Blended: Using Disruptive Innovation to Improve Schools, Michael B. Horn and Heather Staker present a vision of K-12 education in need of change. They view education through the lens of the theory of disruptive innovation developed by Clayton Christensen from Harvard Business School. Christensens theory describes how innovations across many sectors (including education) disrupt and ultimately replace existing systems. The authors posit that current trends in online learning demonstrate the pattern of disruptive innovation in the K-12 education sector. This disruption is driven by the desire for personalization, access, and cost controls along with new options made available through advancing technology.

The book is intended as a practical how to guide for blended learning implementation, strongly focused on a school-level (as opposed to classroom-level) strategy for a readership consisting of school leaders and decision makers. The first two chapters lay the groundwork by defining blended learning, introduce four models of K-12 blended learning, apply the theory of disruptive innovation to describe these models, and suggest predictions for the future of K-12 blended learning. Subsequent chapters address issues related to defining the problem that an interested school wants to solve, designing a blended solution, and then implementing the solution in the school. The guidance provided is peppered with dozens of examples from real schools across the United States that are implementing blended approaches.


For school- and district-level leaders, this book offers practical strategies, tools, and advice for implementation. Tables, figures, and exhibits are included on topics ranging from assembling an effective team for a project to selecting appropriate software for a school or district. These strategies give readers a concrete foundation for blended learning endeavors.

The authors are able to provide detailed tips for for blended learning implementation due to their experience working with the Clayton Christensen Institute for Disruptive Innovation in cataloguing various types of blends. They have seen blended learning implemented across regions, districts, and grade levels and the book is grounded in concrete examples from actual K-12 schools. For example, links to video clips give readers a (somewhat idealized) sense of what these schools look like on the ground. Three sample daily schedules illustrate ways different schools have implemented the blended learning approach. A table provides examples of how seven schools have shifted their architectural design to incorporate a modularized open design. These real-life examples leave readers excited about the potential of blended learning for innovating education, instead of overwhelmed by the prospect of upending the current system with an entirely new one.


While Blended is a useful resource for institutional implementation of blended learning, teachers may be unsatisfied with limited course-level pedagogical guidance for applying blended learning in their classes. Other publications do focus on pedagogical preparation, such as Tuckers (2012) Blended Learning in Grades 4-12. This book discusses the role of instructors in blended classes, ways to nurture effective discussions and communities of inquiry, as well as subject-specific ideas on bringing the benefits of blended learning to the classroom in greater detail.

Horn and Stakers experience with blended learning in educational settings attunes them to the many challenges that can thwart a schools success in implementing it institutionally. This book can assist faculty and administrators in anticipating common challenges they could potentially experience in developing an implementation plan and adjust their execution to lead to success. However, many of these issues may require more than a section or chapter to adequately address. For example, creating the right culture for success or preparing the planning team could fill its own book. At best, Blended raises awareness of important issues; readers may need to turn to other sources for further information. Extensive chapter notes provide a starting point for finding complementary literature.

One issue that should have been covered in greater depth is faculty development. A common fear in educational reform is that faculty will reshape innovative ideas and technology in ineffective approaches familiar to them. A strong faculty development program is important for avoiding this problem. Blended does argue for greater appreciation of instructors and for the need to gain teacher buy-in, but little guidance is given on developing a plan to help instructors transform their individual classrooms when blended learning is applied. Readers may find Arneys (2014) Go Blended! A Handbook for Blending Technology in Schools to be a useful resource for creating a faculty development program that builds buy-in, successfully trains teachers, and provides useful support to assist teachers through the implementation process.


We believe Blended is an important read for anyone interested in understanding and implementing K-12 blended learning. It is one of the most comprehensive approaches to the topic that is currently available. However, readers should not expect this book to answer all their questions about K-12 blended learning; it represents just the tip of the iceberg, leaving many more questions unanswered than solved. There is still much to understand about blended learning, including: the conditions under which blended learning is most effective; how to implement personalized instruction and engage students online; how to best use teachers, other students, and technology; and how to help teachers transition to a new way of teaching. Despite these limitations, this book provides a useful perspective that may be insightful to both researcher and practitioner alike.



Arney, L. (2014). Go blended! A handbook for blended technology in schools. San-Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Tucker, C. R. (2012) Blended learning in grades 4-12. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin.

Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record, Date Published: September 22, 2015
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 18121, Date Accessed: 10/22/2021 12:13:23 AM

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About the Author
  • Charles Graham
    Brigham Young University
    E-mail Author
    CHARLES R. GRAHAM is a Professor of Instructional Psychology and Technology at Brigham Young University with interest in technology-mediated teaching and learning. Charles studies the design and evaluation of blended learning environments and the use of technology to enhance teaching and learning. Charles has authored 50+ articles in over two-dozen journals, many with graduate students who he loves to work with and mentor. He has also published 20+ chapters related to online and blended learning environments in edited books including Online Collaborative Learning: Theory and Practice, Blended Learning: Research Perspectives, The Encyclopedia of Distance Learning, and the AECT Handbook of Research on Educational Communications and Technology. Charles also co-edited the Handbook of Blended Learning: Global Perspectives, Local Designs which contains thirty-nine chapters with examples of blended learning in higher education, corporate, and military contexts from around the world. He co-edited a volume titled, Blended Learning: Research Perspectives, Volume 2, with twenty-one chapters on current research practices in blended learning. He has also co-authored a book for teachers and practitioners interested in designing blended learning environments titled, Essentials for Blended Learning. His research publications can be found online at: https://sites.google.com/site/charlesrgraham/
  • Curtis Henrie
    Brigham Young University
    E-mail Author
    CURTIS R. HENRIE is a doctoral student researcher in Instructional Psychology & Technology at Brigham Young University. His research focuses on ways to measure student engagement in online and blended learning environments.
  • Lisa Halverson
    Brigham Young University
    E-mail Author
    LISA R. HALVERSON is a doctoral student in Instructional Psychology & Technology at Brigham Young University. She is developing and testing a conceptual framework from learner engagement in blended settings. She has also published on high-impact publications in blended learning research. Before this doctoral program, Lisa received an MA in History from Stanford University and taught high school for 10 years.
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