Why Technology Alone Can't Transform Education

A leader in educational technology separates truth from hype, explaining what technology can—and can’t—do to transform our classrooms.

Join our Failure to Disrupt Virtual Book Club this Fall

Join Justin Reich, guest presenters and students from MIT for a ten week book club exploring themes in Failure to Disrupt and implications for remote learning this fall. Every Monday from 3-4pm ET, starting September 21.

About The Book

Proponents of large-scale learning have boldly promised that technology can disrupt traditional approaches to schooling, radically accelerating learning and democratizing education. Much-publicized experiments, often underwritten by Silicon Valley entrepreneurs, have been launched at elite universities and in elementary schools in the poorest neighborhoods. Such was the excitement that, in 2012, the New York Times declared the “year of the MOOC.” Less than a decade later, that pronouncement seems premature.

In Failure to Disrupt: Why Technology Alone Can’t Transform Education, Justin Reich delivers a sobering report card on the latest supposedly transformative educational technologies. Reich takes readers on a tour of MOOCs, autograders, computerized “intelligent tutors,” and other educational technologies whose problems and paradoxes have bedeviled educators. Learning technologies—even those that are free to access—often provide the greatest benefit to affluent students and do little to combat growing inequality in education. And institutions and investors often favor programs that scale up quickly, but at the expense of true innovation. It turns out that technology cannot by itself disrupt education or provide shortcuts past the hard road of institutional change.

Technology does have a crucial role to play in the future of education, Reich concludes. We still need new teaching tools, and classroom experimentation should be encouraged. But successful reform efforts will focus on incremental improvements, not the next killer app.

Key Themes in the Book Covered: Genres & Dilemmas of Learning at Scale

  1. Instructor-Guided Learning at Scale: Massive Open Online Courses
  2. Algorithm-Guided Learning at Scale: Adaptive Tutors and Computer-Assisted Instruction
  3. Peer-Guided Learning at Scale: Networked Learning Communities
  4. Testing the Genres of Learning at Scale: Learning GamesII. Dilemmas in Learning at Scale
  5. The Curse of the Familiar
  6. The Edtech Matthew Effect
  7. The Trap of Routine Assessment
  8. The Toxic Power of Data and Experiments

About the Author


Justin Reich is a learning scientist interested in learning at scale, practice-based teacher education, and the future of learning in a networked world. He is an Assistant Professor in the Comparative Media Studies/Writing department at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the director of the MIT Teaching Systems Lab.

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