Can Hybrid Home Schooling “Cross the Chasm?”
Hybrid home schooling proponents must tackle three questions to grow beyond early adopters and into the mainstream.
In 1991, Geoffrey Moore published Crossing the Chasm, a book about how new technologies get adopted. It would go on to become a massive international bestseller, selling more than 1 million print copies worldwide.
In it, Moore describes the “technology adoption life cycle.” He explains the timeline of new technology adoption as passing through a Bell Curve of different types of people. At the left tail of the curve are the innovators, the small number of people who “pursue new technology products aggressively.” As we move rightward, next comes a slightly larger group of early adopters, who “find it easy to imagine, understand, and appreciate the benefits of a new technology, and to relate these potential benefits to other concerns.” As we get into the meat of the distribution, we have the early majority, a large group of people who are willing to try new things but want a bit more evidence that it will solve the problems that they have before they purchase it. The second large chunk of people are the late majority. They are less likely to try new things, and generally wait until the new technology is established, vetted, and proven to work. Finally, the last small group of adopters are laggards, who “don’t want anything to do with new technology.”
The “chasm” in the book’s title refers to the space between early adopters and the early majority that new technologies must leap to become successful. It is not hard to get innovators and early adopters to try something new, but there isn’t always a lot of market space there. The bread gets buttered by the early majority, but they are tougher to convince.
Hybrid home schooling is an educational innovation that has not yet crossed the chasm. In hundreds of schools across the country, students attend formal classes in a brick-and-mortar school for part of the week, and are home-schooled for the rest of the week. Some models have two days at home and three days at school, some three days at home and two days at school, and some have four days in one setting and one in the other. But, the movement still exists at the margins of the American education system.
Can it see wider adoption?
To cross the chasm, hybrid home schooling proponents need to wrestle with three questions.
Question #1: Is Hybrid Home Schooling a Disruptive or Continuous Innovation?
Moore divides innovations into two types: disruptive and continuous. Continuous innovations make marginal improvements on existing technologies. Think about cars getting more fuel efficient or computers getting faster. Disruptive technologies cause us to change our behavior or the products that we use. Think of Lasik eye surgery instead of glasses or using Spotify instead of buying albums.
Whether an innovation is disruptive or continuous changes who it is targeted to and how.
There is a strong argument that hybrid home schooling is a disruptive innovation. If disruptive innovation means changing behavior, moving from sending a child to school five days a week to only three is disruptive. Likewise, the change from home schooling a student five days a week to only two is going to be disruptive. Ask families who participate in the Fleming County Public School’s hybrid home schooling program in Kentucky, and they’d probably tell you that it disrupted their normal home schooling routine.
But there is also an argument to be made that it is a continuous innovation. Many hybrid home schooling programs grew out of existing programs, organically adding or subtracting elements as they evolved. The Hallmark Charter School, operated by the Sanger Unified School District in California, started as a dropout recovery program that had students working a correspondence-like model where they checked in with teachers once a week to share their progress. When school leaders realized that students needed more structure, they added more on-campus courses until they got to the point that they required at least one day a week of in-person classes to participate in the program.
Perhaps the answer is that different schools and school models will answer this question differently. Some will see themselves as a natural continuation of the experimentation and change that has little-by-little changed schools over time. They will market themselves to families that are looking to improve what they are already doing, not completely change it. Others will market themselves as disruptive, offering families a drastic change to help them overcome a serious problem. They will target families who want more change, something that Question #2 is going to wrestle with.
Question #2: What Problems Does Hybrid Home Schooling Solve?
One way that Moore argues a technology can cross the chasm is to solve the intense problems of a small number of people instead of the minor problems of a large number of people.
Lots of families have vague or minor issues with education today. They might not like their child’s math teacher or think that the way their child is taught reading is suboptimal. There are solutions shy of taking 50 percent of their child’s education into their own hands that can solve those problems.
But for small but substantial number of families, their problems with the traditional school model are more fundamental. Many parents deeply believe that the contemporary school schedule and calendar are out of step with the rhythms of family life and child development. They cite school days that are poorly matched with the circadian rhythms of developing children, days and weeks of wasted time, and a culture of overscheduling and homework that isolates children from their parents during important times of development. They want to radically disrupt their child’s days, weeks and years.
If a family’s problem is this fundamental, hybrid home schooling can be a solution. It can also be a problem with families who have serious, foundational, disagreement with the pedagogical or moral philosophies of school, either because they are more progressive than their child’s school or more conservative. It is not surprising that there are hybrid homeschools organized around both Waldorf and Classical models. The hybrid model can drive down the cost of schooling according to these pedagogical philosophies, models that previously were only available to the wealthy.
Question #3: Can Hybrid Home Schooling Become Easier?
The big difference between early adopters and the early majority is practicality. While early adopters are willing to cope with bugs and figure out hacks and solutions on their own, the early majority wants a smoother experience. The same is true of hybrid home-schoolers.
If you talk to the leaders of hybrid home schools, they’ll tell you that the first families that came together to start the school were pioneers. Many schools’ first boards of directors were workings groups that actually operated the school instead of full-time administrators. Teachers and leaders had to build the plane while they were flying it, and the families who participated knew this was happening and accepted it. It took a certain type of parent to be willing to go along with this. As schools matured, the types of families changed. More risk-averse families saw the schools working and decided that they were functional enough for them to enroll their children.
Any time a school, hybrid or otherwise, starts up, there are going to be some bugs to work out. But, other schooling sectors have gotten better at starting up schools with fewer hiccups. In this way, hybrid home schools could learn from the charter school sector and create networks of support that provide frameworks for schools hoping to start up.
One existing network in the hybrid home schooling space is University-Model Schools International. They have a specific model of hybrid home schooling that has been replicated in more than 80 schools. UMSI vets potential school operators and offers new school development workshops and plans to help schools start and grow. They have templates for key school documents and policies and offer dedicated support for burgeoning schools.
Other kinds of hybrid home schooling models could do the same. In doing so, they would decrease the number of hiccups and help move their school through the adoption lifecycle.
Wrestling with these three questions is the first of many steps that hybrid home schooling will need to take to be able to “cross the chasm.”
The next in this series: Who Should Hybrid Home-school?