Handling disruptive innovations in HE: lessons from two contrasting case studies

Stephen Powell, Bill Olivier, Li Yuan

Abstract

This article aims to show how Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) can recognise and best respond to a disruptive innovation. A disruptive innovation creates a new business model using a new process and usually a new technology to offer a product or service with new features and/or lower cost and initially addresses a group of people who are either unserved or overserved by existing offerings. By contrast, a sustaining innovation may use the same technology, but enhance an existing business model. To illustrate this, we set out two case studies that each implement the same innovative model of work-focussed learning differently: one in an autonomous sub-unit of an HEI, while the other sought to embed the same model in existing faculty activities in another HEI. The theory of disruptive innovation (Bower and Christensen 1995) is set out and used to understand types of innovation, from sustaining to disruptive, and to identify the model of work-focussed learning as a disruptive innovation. We then used this to analyse the subsequent trajectories and different outcomes of the two case studies. Our aims then were (1) to show how disruptive innovation theory can be used to recognise different types of innovation and (2) to suggest the appropriate way to organisationally structure disruptive educational innovations as semi-autonomous enterprises. We also note potential constraints that government policy may place on HEIs attempting to respond to disruptive innovations.

Keywords: disruptive innovation; business model; online distance education; organisational change; higher education

(Published: 24 July 2015)

Citation: Research in Learning Technology 2015, 23: 22494 - http://dx.doi.org/10.3402/rlt.v23.22494

Keywords

disruptive innovation; business model; online distance education; organisational change; higher education

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