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.

More about Justin

Join Justin at any upcoming event. Virtual events are open to the public.

What people are saying

In The Media

Watch or listen to recent interviews with Justin Reich…


October 30, 2020

Many very smart people believed that by now, most schooling in America would be happening online.

October 30, 2020

Author Justin Reich talks #FailuretoDisrupt. Conversations Live.

October 30, 2020

While learning technology can carry a high cost economically and culturally, maybe a more important question is how it impacts our kid’s education and social skills.

October 30, 2020

On this week’s Tech Nation, Moira speaks with Justin.

October 5, 2020

Listen to Justin discuss with how teachers are using more technology today, but the essential model hasn’t changed that much, despite tech proponents argument that algorithim and peer-guided learning can transform the system.

October 5, 2020

In this episode of Cool Science Radio Justin delivers a sobering look at the educational technologies that promised to upend traditional approaches to schooling, as the United States reckons with the possibility of long-term distance learning due to widespread COVID-19 school closures.

October 5, 2020

“Killer apps” and robots have not reduced the need for good teachers; the author joins us to explain.

September 21, 2020

Justin is featured on this radio show about Learning through tech.

September 21, 2020

New book alert! Author and educational researcher, Justin Reich, shares about his new release, Failure to Disrupt


November 10, 2020

CEL Joint-School PD Day 2020

September 22, 2020

Webinar for IIM-Ahmedabad

September 17, 2020

Webinar for D2L


October 13, 2020

Featured in Les Echos

Written by Julien Damon

September 25, 2020

Featured in New York Times

Written by Abby Goodnough

September 25, 2020

Featured in KQED Mindshift

Written by Ki Sung

September 15, 2020

Featured in Ed-Tech Mania Is Back

Written by Justin Reich

September 11, 2020

Featured in NY Times Magazine

Written by Emily Bazelon

September 9, 2020

Featured in Science Magazine

Written by

September 3, 2020

Featured in Teaching Times

Written by Justin Reich

Resources from the Author

The discussion does not have to begin and end with our Virtual Book Club sessions. Add to the discourse of the chapters, pose questions for the author, or share your own experiences in our forum.

A report to help more deeply understand the practice and professional experiences of educators during the 2020 extended school closures, we interviewed 40 teachers from across the country in public, charter, and private schools, at different grade levels, and in different subject areas.

In May 2020, we conducted four online design charrettes with school and district leaders, teachers, students, parents, and other stakeholders to translate design-based practices for leading school change into an online context.

Catch up on all the Podcasts hosted by Justin Reich throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.

A recent paper from Justin and his colleagues in response to the pandemic.

“Amid the intense pressure to get remote learning right, right now, it may seem inconceivable to devote scarce resources this May to imagining handwashing routines in September. But experienced crisis managers in many other settings have learned the hard way that in the midst of emergencies, the future has a way of crashing down more quickly than could be expected.”

“Publish good projects and learning resources. Make them accessible. Disseminate widely. Check in with students. Solicit feedback. Plan for re-entry. Schools that do a few simple things well, listen to stakeholders, and plan for the future will likely be in the best position on the other side of this crisis.”

“MIT students are brilliant, have many experiences learning online, and are a tremendous resource. Ask them for help in your transition, and ask for their advice about how they individually learn online or their best experiences in online courses.” 

Virtual Book Club Guests