The key to enhancing ESL learning is DISRUPTIVE INNOVATION


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This term ‘disruptive innovation’ is being pushed around a lot these days, and everyone seems to want to jump on it. But few people have thought about it beyond ‘product enhancement’. What I want to do here is discuss how this in fact can be used (and in some cases has been used) successfully to build English skills in the classroom.

So firstly:

What actually is ‘disruptive innovation’?

Disruptive innovation is the term used to describe the process in which a product that is already made and functioning well is taken by another manufacturer and enhanced or changed in some way to may it better than the previous product, then launched as a whole new product.

Now you know what it is you can see that this idea is nothing new. In fact if you think about it, most designers in this world do exactly this. It has been done with such products as the telephone, the television, cars and all forms of technology. See how far these ideas have been innovated since their first inception!

I know what you are thinking now…you are thinking, well, that’s life. That’s creativity. But the truth is that nowadays it is extremely difficult to come up with something that is completely new, most people in fact ‘disrupt’ the innovation and create something new from there.

So now let’s look at it in terms of learning English.

How often in a class a student may say something that is perhaps grammatically incorrect.

e.g.        I come Libya.

As a good teacher we may write this on the board and ask others, firstly, how can we correct this. The class will respond by coming up with the correct sentence.

e.g.        I come from Libya.

But let’s not stop there. Let’s think about how we can enhance this sentence even further.

e.g.        I come from the country of Libya.


e.g.        I come from Libya, what about you?

All these are in other words considered a very simple form of disruptive innovation.

But what about changing the whole sentence into something different (in terms of meaning)

e.g.        I come from Libya therefore I speak Arabic.

This has ‘disrupted’ the core meaning of the sentence and made it about something different. It was about ‘where are you from’, but now it is about ‘what language do you speak’.

Here is another one.

e.g.        The country of Libya is bordering on Egypt on the right and Tunisia on the left.

Here you have taken the original sentence and removed words which were the original meaning and changed it completely into a new piece of information and a new English phrase.

The disruptive innovation can go on and on, and in fact that is exactly what we try to do when we learn English, we are always looking to take that step further to develop our confidence and skills in the language.

From a teaching point of view we need to understand in fact how we are building the skills of our students English language, and from a student’s point of view we need to understand how we are taking the steps to be innovative in our use of English and as a result building our confidence in using new and different phrases.

Disruptive innovation is in our natural DNA when it comes to learning a language. Don’t be afraid to try it more and understand why you are doing it.


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