I am excited to write today about Innosight Institute’s first published case study. You can read the executive summary here and download the full version here.

Leland Anderson, a visiting research fellow at Innosight Institute, is the primary author of the case, which revolves around Utah’s Alpine School District’s launching of an online school with K12, Inc., to reach nonconsumers in its district—namely home-schooled students. Alpine is one of the 100 largest school districts in the United States.

The case on this school, Alpine Online, sheds light on a number of interesting things around the disruptive phenomenon of online learning and how it works. Some tidbits:

– From the economic perspective, Alpine was able to pick and choose among offerings from K12, Inc. and assemble other district resources in an affordable way so that it could fund the full school with just the allotted per-pupil funds from the state itself (roughly $2,500 per pupil per year!).

– Students only move on to the next objective once they have mastered at least 80 percent of the material in front of them—which means the learning opportunities are more tailored to their individual pace and needs. Interestingly, there is a minimum time requirement—students are still required to spend 990 hours engaged in learning activities per year—although since this is not restricted by course, there is flexibility in a student’s learning activities. Some students take multiple math courses in a given year, for example, if they are able to accelerate. Others can devote more time to just one math course; if the social studies curriculum is easier for them, they could spend less time there, for example.

– Many of the learning activities still occur offline with physical objects and books and so forth—not on the computer. The computer is merely the platform.

– Alpine Online also contracted with the disruptive innovator Rosetta Stone to provide 14 foreign language offerings at a “whopping” $13 per license!

Read the case and let us know what you think. What have they done that makes sense to you? What doesn’t make sense? What have they done that is circumstance-specific and would not apply to your situation? Are there other elements that are more universal?

One of the chief purposes of these case studies is description to gain a clear understanding of the phenomenon. This is a core piece to any body of rigorous research. These case studies will allow us to better understand education disruptions—from their promise to their current shortfalls to how they work in the trenches. We hope that this will give policymakers and other stakeholders a clearer understanding of how these disruptions work and what they actually are.

Stay tuned for our next case study as well about the origins, the policies, and the workings of a state-launched disruption—the Florida Virtual School—which we will publish in early October.

– Michael B. Horn


  • Michael B. Horn
    Michael B. Horn

    Michael B. Horn is Co-Founder, Distinguished Fellow, and Chairman at the Christensen Institute.