In the final sets of posts on disruptive innovation, I am going to discuss four developments in education that, when combined, have the potential to dramatically impact the way education is delivered over the next decade.

As a leader of an independent school, I am often asked about what I look for most when I am evaluating a teacher or a classroom. I can answer in three words: engagement and mastery.

The best schools will helps students to see themselves as independent learners and inspire them to pursue their passions. While the quality of relationships between students and teachers is a hallmark of an engaging environment, technology has the potential to provide many new ways for student interaction, exploration, and discovery. At the end of the process, however, students must also be able to demonstrate a mastery of the skills necessary to be successful, independent learners at the next level of their education.

Area #1: Online Learning

The first area in which technology can assist with engagement and mastery is in online learning. Generation Z students are often first attracted to online learning options because they provide an opportunity to explore subject areas that might have been previously unavailable. In the first year of our partnership with the Virtual High School Collaborative, 20% of our eligible students signed up to take an online course.

Why?

They were attracted by a list of more than 130 unique course offerings, including 20 Advanced Placement courses. They were excited to have class with students in 35 different states and 43 countries.

Once engaged in online learning, students tell us that they liked having control over their schedules. They have busy lives and online courses allow them much more flexibility and fewer distractions than they find in traditional classes.

As the technology continues to improve, the quality of online courses also improves. The VHS pass rate for Advanced Placement courses is 8% above the national average, and a 2011 Babson Research survey of university chief academic officers revealed that 67% believe that educational outcomes of online courses are as good or better than face-to-face courses.

Online learning at the college level is projected to soar, with 80% of students expected to be taking at least one course online by 2014. One year later, it is projected that there will be as many exclusively online students in college as exclusively face-to-face.

No doubt, “college prep” schools will need to begin offering students not only an opportunity to engage with new material presented in online courses but also to master the tools that will increasingly become the norm in higher education.