Breaking the mold: How a global pandemic unlocks innovation in K–12 instruction

By:

January 11, 2021
Download Paper

INTRODUCTION

Slowly but steadily over the last decade, online learning expanded its role within K–12 schools: many districts bought devices and upgraded connectivity, some assignments and textbooks moved to the cloud, software increasingly displaced worksheets, and internet research became a norm. Then in early 2020, the global coronavirus pandemic rocked the world—and the arc of the online learning trend bent in heretofore unimaginable ways.

Practically overnight, the spread of COVID-19 caused a sudden shutdown of classroom-based instruction—the centuries-old emblem of formal education. Fortunately, the capabilities of the technological era—in which broadband connectivity, mobile communication, and video conferencing are increasingly common—meant that for the first time in world history, schools have had a substantive way to keep learning going while brick-and-mortar school buildings are shuttered. Nonetheless, by most accounts, the transition has not been easy.

At the Christensen Institute, we’ve spent the last decade studying trends in online and blended learning out of interest in their potential to enable student-centered learning. Yet in ways we never anticipated, COVID-19 brought these modalities to the forefront. As this new reality unfolds, we continue to document both the challenges and the innovations happening across the US K–12 landscape.

As our latest work on this front, we’ve launched what will be a series of nationally-representative surveys of teachers and education administrators that will capture snapshots of instructional practices during the pandemic. The complete findings from our first survey, along with details about our survey methodology and sample, are available in an accompanying report. This brief highlights interesting findings from the first survey, discusses trends in instructional practice that could redefine education in years to come, and offers theory-based insights and recommendations for both powering through the pandemic and evolving toward a more student-centered future.

Download Paper

Thomas Arnett is a senior research fellow in education for the Christensen Institute. His work focuses on identifying strategies to scale student-centered learning in K–12 education through Disruptive Innovation. He also studies demand for innovative resources and practices across the K–12 education system using the Jobs to Be Done Theory. Thomas previously served as a trustee and board president for the Morgan Hill Unified School District in Morgan Hill, California, worked as an Education Pioneers fellow with the Achievement First Public Charter Schools, and taught middle school math as a Teach For America teacher in Kansas City Public Schools. Thomas received a BS in Economics from Brigham Young University and an MBA from the Tepper School of Business at Carnegie Mellon University.