In the year ahead, expect the executive branch to continue pushing for personalized learning, meaning instruction that is tailored to the specific needs and interests of different learners (see the National Ed Tech Plan and the RTTT-D competition). The majority of states also have initiatives underway to personalize learning (see the Keeping Pace report, pp. 14-16).

These government-driven efforts are important, but sometimes get more attention than the surge of energy on the parent-demand side. Michael Horn (sporting a nice new shirt in this picture) wrote here that “a strong majority of already-active parents over time will demand a digital learning-powered system that disrupts the classroom as we’ve known it.” I am seeing that swell in demand already well underway from the soccer-mom-type.

Here are some of the emails I’ve received in just the past few months:

“Hi Heather – what were those math sites you were talking about again? What are some other ones you like – science and/or language? Thanks, Michelle”

“Hi Heather, The Bing definitely needs some help on math, and I’m thinking we ought to try having her do 15 mins online every day before we try more drastic measures : ) Basic stuff – adding and subtracting #s under 100, counting money.  Do you recommend Dreambox or ALEKS?  Something else? Thanks! WKC”

“Hi Heather, When we chatted, you mentioned a great math website — math*box??  Could you remind me of the name?  I’m also gearing up for my history and science homeschooling program this summer (kids ages 4-9), so any recommendations you might have for good resources on those subjects would be appreciated too! – Katie”

“Heather, Since I have been home more than usual lately during the day I’ve observed that my kids need to study more consistently and effectively.  I am looking for an outstanding online curriculum that is data-driven, yields solid student improvement, can be managed by the parent, and differentiated as needed.  Ideally one that is free.  Beyond the good reviews, one that you have used with your own kids and found to be excellent.  Can you please share with me what you use? – Jarom”

“Heather, Thanks! I am excited to get our summer school program together and this really helps! – Jane”


In 2008, the authors of Disrupting Class predicted that online learning would take off slowly, as people experimented with it and developed early prototypes. But they forecast that 2012 would be the year when a “flip” would begin and online learning would start to substitute for monolithic learning. This is their chart of the phenomenon as they predicted it:

                       Source: Christensen, Horn, & Johnson, Disrupting Class, p. 99


As 2012 starts to wind down, we are seeing that this prediction is right on. The trend brings several implications for K-12 education in 2013 and beyond, including these three:

Parents will increasingly want tutoring-type online solutions. Almost all of the emails I get like those above are from parents who want a more convenient, less expensive way to help their kids without having to hire a personal tutor. Disruptive innovation theory predicts precisely that—a swelling preference for student-centric technology (which allows students, teachers, and parents to select a learning pathway through each body of material that fits the learners’ needs, akin to a personal tutor) instead of for basically standardized, computer-based courses.

The rate of ed-tech venture funding will continue to increase to keep up with demand. This new chart from New Schools Venture Fund breaks down the dollars flowing to K-12 ed-tech ventures in 2012. Expect these numbers to increase next year to keep up with a market that is genuinely growing, as Betsy Cocoran writes here.

And the implication I’m especially interested in—increased parent unrest and more student transfers. The cadre of parents who are already active in their kids’ education will not sit idly by as they see other children accelerating through subjects using online tutoring-type modules. Just yesterday I heard a mom brag about how quickly her kids are learning Chinese. I suspect that buzz on the street will be more significant to the transformation ahead than most people anticipate.


  • Heather Staker
    Heather Staker

    Heather Staker is an adjunct fellow at the Christensen Institute, specializing in K–12 student-centered teaching and blended learning. She is the co-author of "Blended" and "The Blended Workbook." She is the founder and president of Ready to Blend, and has authored six BloomBoard micro-credentials for the “Foundations of Blended Learning” educator micro-endorsement.