Excerpt adapted from Disrupting Class, Expanded Edition: How Disruptive Innovation Will Change the Way the World Learns by Clayton Christensen, Curtis W. Johnson, and Michael B. Horn.

If the goal is to educate every student—asking schools to ensure that all students have the skills and capabilities to escape the chains of poverty and have an all-American shot at realizing their dreams—we must find a way to move toward what, in The Disrupting Class, we call a “student-centric” model. We use the word “toward” intentionally here because this is not, at least immediately, a binary choice. A monolithic batch process with all of its interdependencies is at one end of a spectrum, and a student-centric model that is completely modular is at the other. For a very long time there will be some issues, skills, and subjects that the traditional model will handle best. But one by one, the instructional jobs that teachers now shoulder are destined, as we discuss in the book, to migrate toward a student-centric model.

How might schools start down this promising path? Computer-based learning, which is a step on the road toward student-centric technology, offers a way. Computer-based learning is emerging as a disruptive force and a promising opportunity. The proper use of technology as a platform for learning offers a chance to modularize the system and thereby customize learning. Student-centric learning is the escape hatch from the temporal, lateral, physical, and hierarchical cells of standardization. The hardware exists. The software is emerging. Student-centric learning opens the door for students to learn in ways that match their intelligence types in the places and at the paces they prefer by combining content in customized sequences. As modularity and customization reach a tipping point, there is another opportunity for change: Teachers can serve as professional learning coaches and content architects to help individual students progress—and they can be a guide on the side, not a sage on the stage.

Is this a pipe dream? How can schools, which are public institutions driven by political decisions and seemingly insulated from market demands, make the shift to a student-centric classroom? In Disrupting Class, we show that historically schools have in fact done a remarkable job of shifting to meet the public’s demands. Explaining the disruption theory and a brief history of schooling in the United States shows that schools actually have consistently improved over time. Although it won’t be easy, we think they can make this shift to a student-centric classroom, too, if they take the right steps forward.