Failure to Disrupt: Why Technology Alone Can’t Transform Education

By Justin Reich

Recommended on: 24th September 2020

Failure to Disrupt: Why Technology Alone Can’t Transform Education, by Justin Reich.  Let’s cut to the chase. This brilliant, upbeat book should be read by anyone involved in education, including parents, teachers, educational administrators, and policy-makers. If you want to understand how education itself is carved at its joints, this book, ostensibly centered on edtech, is the book to read. 

The challenge for us all is that today’s vast edtech industry is enormously convoluted and connects virtually every sector in education. It’s deucedly difficult to get a “bird’s eye” view of the playing field, because there are so many players with so many motives and perspectives, ranging from lawmakers and university administrators to kindergarten teachers, from charismatic high-tech entrepreneurs to established industry players. 

One would need an extraordinary intellect to understand and float between all the worlds and layers. Fortunately for us, Justin Reich not only has the intellect and writing chops to make sense of the landscape, but his positions at Harvard and then MIT have given him an unparalleled opportunity to interact with or be aware of virtually every major trend in edtech. Additionally, with the advent of COVID, edtech is shifting. The “built from the foundations” nature of this book’s explanations—which cover networked communities, assessment, gamification, adaptive tutors, and far, far morewill help you understand where the shifts are going to have their biggest impact. (We love Reich’s Law“People who do stuff do more stuff, and people who do stuff do better than people who don’t do stuff.”)

Oddly enough for a book with “failure” in the title, Reich is an optimist, and his book provides a sunny outlook on the gradual improvements taking place, tweak by tiny tweak, in education aided by technology. When Reich finds unsuccessful areas in edtech (and there are many), he relates them cheerfully, so that even the partial deadends seem worthwhile.  Reich is able to suss out the ideologies that underlie the various educational approaches, looking beneath them and dispassionately describing what’s effective and what’s not.

This is masterful writing and thinking that helps us all see more clearly how to help students succeed. Highly recommended!