Successful failure to disrupt with webinar guest Justin Reich

Many thanks to Justin Reich for taking time to talk with me about his book Failure to Disrupt, his research in education technology, and his views on where we go from here. Watch the video and scroll/click through the links below. Enjoy!


00:02 Open-Source Learning

00:49 Justin Reich

00:58 Failure to Disrupt

02:56 Clay Shirky

02:58 Sal Khan

03:28 Clayton Christensen

03:35 disruptive innovation

07:07 Inscription at UCLA’s Royce Hall: Education is learning to use the tools which the race has found indispensable.

07:33 Morgan Ames on charismatic technology

07:53 Tinkering Toward Utopia by David Tyack and Larry Cuban

09:07 Massive open online courses (MOOCs)

11:36 The One Best System by David Tyack

12:22 Peter Drucker

12:57 Stockholm syndrome

13:05 Sebastian Thrun

13:07 Sugata Mitra

14:29 M.I.T. Teaching Lab Reports During COVID19/ Resources for Policy Makers, School Leaders, and Teachers

20:21 LAUSD $1.3B Apple iPad fiasco

22:14 Quizlet

23:52 Desmos

24:25 Scratch

27:33 Paolo Freire

27:27 Audrey Watters

27:40 Seymour Papert

28:08 “Why Reform Sometimes Succeeds” by Jal Mehta and David Cohen

28:28 Maria Montessori

29:27 High Tech High

29:37 NEF

35:33 The Age of Surveillance Capitalism by Shoshana Zuboff

* [Editor’s Addition] How to Destroy Surveillance Capitalism by Cory Doctorow

40:30 White paper: “Open-Source Learning: How School Can Win the Disruption Age”

41:24 Douglas Rushkoff

44:06 “School’s Out Forever” on This American Life by Chana Joffe-Walt

45:36 Disruption/ worst mud season ever in Vermont

46:22 “Schooling in the Fifth Season” by Justin Reich for ASCD

46:29 N.K. Jemisin

48:15 Outdoor learning

50:12 High speed internet access is a basic human right

51:08 EFF

51:31 “There aren’t a lot of ways of improving well-being for young people that don’t involve politics.”

51:57 ESSER (Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief) Fund

53:57 Jessica Calarco: “Other countries have social safety nets. The U.S. has women.”

54:49 Harvard Education Redesign Lab

56:23 Connected Learning Summit

57:57 Failure to Disrupt

58:02 M.I.T. Teaching Systems Lab














there is a better breakfast burrito

I am a recovering perfectionist. When I click “Publish” and this post goes live on the blog that bears my name, I will not be happy with it. “It could have been so much better,” I’ll think, “If only I’d spent more time and energy making it so.”

But I will still click “Publish.”  We can’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good. Our fears of judgement, criticism, and ridicule can’t prevent us from sharing our ideas and creations out in the open.

That is how we can improve and refine our thinking.

Because, if we’re lucky, some well-qualified people will judge, criticize, and ridicule our work.


The following is adapted from Chapter 6 of Academy of One.


Don’t you judge me.

The phrase has become a parody of itself. It can be funny when it’s meant to be. But it also typifies a post-Jerry Springer culture. People who should feel ashamed of their behavior no longer do. Instead, they brazenly attempt to make their problems our problem.

Shame has largely disappeared from social contact. When was the last time you saw a public figure show genuine remorse for something they did that was clearly bad, wrong, reprehensible, and/or completely embarrassing? The Houston Astros cheated their way into the 2017 World Series, and five years later not a single one of them has offered a believable apology.

Last year, the World Economic Forum identified youth disillusionment as a global risk. Young people have become disillusioned in large part because adult public figures and institutions have not acted credibly. The Astros, the leaders of several well-known countries (including the last president of this one), and celebrities of all stripes have created confusion by acting like the ends justify the means, or something is only wrong if you get caught.

Open-Source Learning takes the concept of merit seriously and literally. We aim for excellence and we believe we can do better.

So, please be clear on this point: Of course we’re going to judge you.

Here, to illustrate the value of judgement, is food.


In front of you are two breakfast burritos. The first burrito was prepared by the loving hands of the most skilled chef you can imagine. It is piping hot. Steam rises from the soft homemade tortilla. The tortilla embraces fresh cubed Yukon gold potatoes, eggs from happy, local pastured hens, green chiles, and fresh cilantro from the garden. And, mmm… the chorizo.

The second burrito is the product of a frozen food company that took over a converted auto parts factory next to a waste water treatment plant. It smells like freezer. It has been frozen, thawed, and frozen again, then microwaved. The hardened ends are warm, but you can still see ice crystals in the middle. This burrito has blue spots and is hairy with mold.

You get to choose one burrito.

Are you ready to judge now?

(Note: A very skilled practitioner of Non-Violent Communication techniques once told me that thinking in terms of “right” and “wrong” limits our ability to connect with one another. She’s right, and I’m good with that. It may be hard to connect when you feel like someone is judging you – but it’s harder still when you’re puking.)

Judging – being able to evaluate what is of quality and what is good for us – is advantageous in competition and essential to our survival.

Discernment helps us make decisions that range from shopping to ethics to social relationships. Judging quality is a learned skill. If you cannot distinguish what is good for you from what isn’t, you will get sick and die sooner than the rest of us.


The data students generate through Open-Source Learning provides a rich alternative to test scores. The original content and metadata provide insight into what creators are thinking and how they are thinking about it. We can benchmark skills and identify opportunities for improvement, so that graduates have a portfolio of knowledge and skill, and – far more importantly – so that they can recognize when they have a need to learn and execute on a strategy that will meet their needs.

The Bottom Line

This blog post isn’t perfect. It isn’t the best breakfast burrito, and it isn’t the worst. But the fact that I put it here means you can read it and think about it, and we can start a conversation.

So please Contact Me – with all of your judgements, criticisms, and plural noun suggestions for ridicule. Let’s think about ways we can help every learner make a better mental breakfast burrito.


*If you’ve read this far, I want to thank you. I also understand that some people wouldn’t know a good breakfast burrito if it bit them in the face. So, dear reader, I’d like to buy you a breakfast burrito. If you’re in SoCal, let me know and I’ll take you myself. Or just go here anytime in the next week and send me the receipt. Thanks for reading and have a great week. dp


The Five Fitnesses of Open-Source Learning

Today’s post is a grateful response to those of you who have recently asked about the Five Fitnesses of Open-Source Learning.

A couple years ago I recorded a brief explainer video – here it is!

If you’d like more information please Contact Me.

We are all born learners

You were born to do this.

Our awareness of the world and our place in it is fueled by a natural sense of inquisitiveness and curiosity. When we encourage this motivation we discover that our capabilities extend far beyond the limits of school and work.

School does many things well, but it wasn’t built for today’s culture or technology. No one is at fault, but all of us are responsible. The one-to-many, textbook-based classroom broadcast is over. It’s our job to create new, innovative opportunities. Learners must solve problems, identify opportunities, and create value even as they face an increasingly complex and uncertain future.

This is an amazing moment in the history of learning.

So what can a teacher do to help students make real-world connections?

Put the student in charge.

Instead of building for students, build with them. When I meet a new class, I present a series of possibilities. I tell them how difficult consensus is to achieve. I quote Ben Franklin’s “We all hang together or we all hang separately.” Then I walk out of the room so they can come to agreement on one question: What do you really want out of this semester?

Focus on learning

We learn naturally, passionately, individually, and collaboratively. School reeks of bureaucracy, standardization, even incarceration. In order to help students refocus on learning, which ignites their motivation and self-expression, ask them to identify a Big Question they’d like to investigate. This doesn’t mean they’ll answer it. Sometimes they don’t even get around to investigating it. But it does give them the opportunity to frame the curriculum in a way they find valuable.

Learners benefit most when they find something that is so worth figuring out that they practice and fail repeatedly until they succeed. This requires trust. (Note: Trusting students is important, but it’s actually less important than giving them a reason to trust in their education and the people responsible for it.)

Say yes.

There’s a long list of people in every student’s life who can say “no.” Hardly anyone is willing and able to say “yes.”  Make no mistake — this is real power. And often it costs nothing. So when a student wants to invite U2’s keyboardist to class or learn to fly a plane or take our entire community to Yosemite or write a novel or become a chef or — you name it — let the answer be “yes.”

This is an amazing moment in the history of learning. I’m excited for the many learners and educators (whether they work in schools or not) who are practicing elements of what I call Open Source Learning. In this approach to learning, students use 2.0 tools to create their online identities, express themselves, and demonstrate what they can do.

I define Open Source Learning as “A guided learning process that combines timeless best practices with today’s tools in a way that empowers learners to create interdisciplinary paths of inquiry, communities of interest and critique, and a portfolio of knowledge capital that is directly transferable to the marketplace.”

Students use Open Source Learning to create a wild variety of personal goals, Big QuestionsCollaborative Working Groups, and online portfolios of work. They can leverage these artifacts as a competitive advantage in applying for jobs, scholarships, and admission to colleges and universities. You can see a sample course blog here and some personal member blogs here.

(Originally published 8.28.14 at

[Header Image: My daughter Tara learning the cello with Laura Ritchie and friends. Image: David Preston]

goals are for giving

It doesn’t matter whether you’re a fan of America, or soccer, or American soccer – this was a great goal, and the reaction is EPIC:

It all makes no sense.

Dudes: you just won. You’ve been running around all day. Isn’t this a good time to relax and kick back?

Soccer players run more in a game than you do in a month. These players finally win, the game is over, and what do they do? Catch their breath? Nope. They freak out! Run around, arms in the air, jumping all over each other.

I can feel it. Watching that video always makes me happy.

What if our default is joy?

What if the right goals GIVE you energy?

If you don’t feel this way about your goals, maybe you have the wrong goals.


I originally wrote the following for HS students on a 2014-2015 course blog.

“Why bother creating our own goals,” a student once asked me, “when we’re already told what it means to succeed in school?  Aren’t we just supposed to get A’s?”


Being able to set and achieve goals is important in every endeavor: sports, organizations, self-improvement, emptying the dishwasher before your mother gets home. Duke basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski requires his players to set goals for themselves and the team each season.  In Coach K’s words, “Mutual commitment helps overcome the fear of failure—especially when people are part of a team sharing and achieving goals. It also sets the stage for open dialogue and honest conversation.”

When you share your goals you’re sharing ideas that inform and inspire your colleagues.  These goals will form the basis for your Learning Plan over the spring semester.

Keep something else in mind.  Unlike players on a soccer or a basketball team, you can change the game itself.  Why not analyze a Russian novel by comparing it with its modern film adaptation?  Watch Anna Karenina and then think about how to demonstrate what you know in such a way that it will help us.  Huh?  You’d rather build a robot that writes, reads, interprets, and explains Russian novels to irritating teacher types? Cool. Do that.


Set a goal. And do it for yourself, for the love of the game, for the thrill of victory. For the sake of everything that ever mattered to anyone, DON’T do it for a grade.
In fact, if you are still thinking of this as a high school course to be gamed, please immediately find your closest friend and ask her to roll up a newspaper and smack you on the nose with it.*  (*If this doesn’t work the first time, ask a friend who reads the newspaper on a computer.**) [**In this day and age, I should probably point out that this is not an actual instruction. Hands are not for hitting. Baseball bats are, but that isn’t really relevant or appropriate here and now I find myself wondering how Montaigne ever righted the stream-of-consciousness ship once he got off on one of these tangents.] If you’re one of those people who cut corners last semester and thought we didn’t notice, she will be doing you a favor.  It’s better that you get your act together in private before we get started, before everyone sees what you do all the time, before 70% of your course grade is determined by your learning network.


Like so many things school doesn’t teach, understanding goals and our feelings about them are essential to living successful lives. For more information, click here for your free guide to OSL or Contact Me directly.