+1 Recommend
1 collections

      If you have found this article useful and you think it is important that researchers across the world have access, please consider donating, to ensure that this valuable collection remains Open Access.

      Prometheus is published by Pluto Journals, an Open Access publisher. This means that everyone has free and unlimited access to the full-text of all articles from our international collection of social science journalsFurthermore Pluto Journals authors don’t pay article processing charges (APCs).

      • Record: found
      • Abstract: found
      • Article: found
      Is Open Access

      Disruptive innovation, the episteme and technology-enhanced learning in higher education

      Pluto Journals


            This paper combines the theory of disruptive innovation with Foucault's concept of the episteme, in order to analyse the extent to which the integration of Foucauldian analysis clarifies understandings of disruptive innovation; the process by which innovation happens; and its applications in higher education. The theory of disruptive innovation is summarized, as is the episteme, and the idea of skeuomorphic design is used to link disruptive innovation and the episteme, showing how innovation can happen. Disruptive innovation, the episteme and skeuomorphic design are applied to three, specific technologies – Second Life, the massive open online course and the virtual learning environment – arguing that all three offer little or no innovation. The paper contributes to studies on innovation in technology-enhanced learning by applying a novel theoretical framework with the potential for new and predictive insights. The paper links disruptive innovation with Foucault's concept of the episteme and with skeuomorphic design to argue for the emergence of a new, neoliberal episteme in which technology itself is central.


            Author and article information

            Pluto Journals
            1 June 2021
            : 37
            : 2 ( doiID: 10.13169/prometheus.37.issue-2 )
            : 155-169
            School of Global Affairs, King's College London.
            © 2021 Pluto Journals

            All content is freely available without charge to users or their institutions. Users are allowed to read, download, copy, distribute, print, search, or link to the full texts of the articles in this journal without asking prior permission of the publisher or the author. Articles published in the journal are distributed under a http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/.

            Custom metadata

            Computer science,Arts,Social & Behavioral Sciences,Law,History,Economics


            1. Ainsworth, P. and McKenzie, T. (2020) ‘On the benefits of risk-sharing for post-COVID higher education in the United Kingdom’, Economic Affairs, 40, 3, pp.446-53.

            2. Bardzell, J., Bardzell, S., Zhang, G. and Pace, T. (2014) ‘The lonely raccoon at the ball: designing for intimacy, sociability, and selfhood’ in Proceedings of the SIGCHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems, pp.3943–52, available at https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Guo_Freeman/publication/262066521_The_lonely_raccoon_at_the_ball_Designing_for_intimacy_sociability_and_selfhood/links/0a85e5368e1cd88e2a000000/The-lonely-raccoon-at-the-ball-Designing-for-intimacy-sociability-and-selfhood.pdf (accessed June 2021).

            3. Bayne, S. (2015) ‘What's the matter with “technology-enhanced learning”?‘, Learning, Media and Technology, 40, 1, pp.5–20.

            4. Bevir, M. (1999) ‘Foucault, power, and institutions’, Political Studies, 47, 2, pp.345–59.

            5. Birkin, F. and Polesie, T. (2011) ‘An epistemic analysis of (un)sustainable business’, Journal of Business Ethics, 103, 2, pp.239–53.

            6. Browne, T., Jenkins, M. and Walker, R. (2006) ‘A longitudinal perspective regarding the use of VLEs by higher education institutions in the United Kingdom’, Interactive Learning Environments, 14, 2, pp.177–92.

            7. Cai, Y. (2017) ‘From an analytical framework for understanding the innovation process in higher education to an emerging research field of innovations in higher education’, Review of Higher Education, 40, 4, pp.585–616.

            8. Christensen, C. (1997) The Innovator's Dilemma: When New Technologies Cause Great Firms to Fail, Harvard Business School Press, Cambridge MA.

            9. Christensen, C. (2006) ‘The ongoing process of building a theory of disruption’, Journal of Product Innovation Management, 23, 1, pp.39–55.

            10. Christensen, C. and Eyring, H. (2011) The Innovative University: Changing the DNA of Higher Education from the Inside Out, Jossey-Bass, San Francisco.

            11. Christensen, C. and Raynor, M. (2003) The Innovator's Solution: Creating and Sustaining Successful Growth, Harvard Business School Press, Cambridge MA.

            12. Christensen, C., Bartman, T. and Van Bever, D. (2016) ‘The hard truth about business model innovation’, MIT Sloan Management Review, 58, 1, pp.31–40.

            13. Christensen, C., Grossman, J. and Hwang. J. (2009) The Innovator's Prescription: A Disruptive Solution for Health Care, McGraw-Hill, New York.

            14. Christensen, C., Horn, M. and Johnson, C. (2008) Disrupting Class: How Disruptive Innovation Will Change the Way the World Learns, McGraw-Hill, New York.

            15. Conole, G., and Brown, M. (2018) ‘Reflecting on the impact of the open education movement’, Journal of Learning for Development, 5, 3, pp.187–203.

            16. Cortez, N. (2014) ‘Regulating disruptive innovation’, Berkeley Technology Law Journal, 29, pp.175–228.

            17. Danneels, E. (2006) ‘Dialogue on the effects of disruptive technology on firms and industries’, Journal of Product Innovation Management, 23, 1, pp.2–4.

            18. Dean, M. (2014) ‘Michel Foucault's “apology” for neoliberalism: lecture delivered at the British Library on the 30th anniversary of the death of Michel Foucault’, Journal of Political Power, 7, 3, pp.433–42.

            19. Douglas, Y. and Hargadon, A. (2017) ‘Domesticating innovation – designing revolutions’ in Bathelt, H., Cohendet, P., Henn, S. and Simon, L. (eds) Elgar Companion to Innovation and Knowledge Creation, Edward Elgar, Cheltenham, pp.152–64.

            20. Du Gay, P., Hall, S., Janes, L., Madsen, A., Mackay, H. and Negus, K. (2013) Doing Cultural Studies: The Story of the Sony Walkman, Sage, London.

            21. Dutton, W., Cheong, P. and Park, A. (2004) ‘An ecology of constraints on e-learning in higher education: the case of a virtual learning environment’, Prometheus, 22, 2, pp.131–49.

            22. Flavin, M. (2017) Disruptive Technology Enhanced Learning: The Use and Misuse of Digital Technologies in Higher Education, Palgrave Macmillan, London.

            23. Flavin, M. and Hulova, K. (2018) ‘An inferior source? Quantitatively analysing the production and revision of five technology-enhanced learning-related terms on Wikipedia’, Research in Learning Technology, 26, 2103.

            24. Flavin, M. and Quintero, V. (2018) ‘UK higher education institutions’ technology-enhanced learning strategies from the perspective of disruptive innovation', Research in Learning Technology, 26, 1987.

            25. Flavin, M. and Quintero, V. (2020) ‘An international study of technology enhanced learning-related strategies from the perspective of disruptive innovation’, Interactive Technology and Smart Education, 17, 4, pp.475–88, available at https://www.emerald.com/insight/content/doi/10.1108/ITSE-11-2019-0077/full/html (accessed June 2021).

            26. Foucault, M. (1980) Power/Knowledge: Selected Interviews and other Writings, 1972–1977, Pantheon, New York.

            27. Foucault, M. (2005 [1970]) The Order of Things, Routledge, London.

            28. Gordon, N. (2014) ‘Flexible pedagogies: technology-enhanced learning’, Higher Education Academy, available at http://www.heacademy.ac.uk/resources/detail/flexiblelearning/flexiblepedagogies/tech_enha nced_lear (accessed June 2021).

            29. Grudin, J. (2012) ‘Punctuated equilibrium and technology change’, Interactions, 19, 5, pp.62–6.

            30. Gutting, G. (2005) Foucault: A Very Short Introduction, Oxford University Press, Oxford.

            31. Gutting, G. (2016) ‘The politics of the order of things: Foucault, Sartre, and Deleuze’, History and Theory, 55, 4, pp.54–65.

            32. Hargadon, A. and Douglas, Y. (2001) ‘When innovations meet institutions: Edison and the design of the electric light’, Administrative Science Quarterly, 46, 3, pp.476–501.

            33. Hargittai, E. (2010) ‘Digital na(t)ives? Variation in internet skills and uses among members of the “net generation”‘, Sociological Inquiry, 80, 1, pp.92–113.

            34. Hassouneh, D. and Brengman, M. (2011) ‘Shopping in virtual worlds: perceptions, motivations, and behavior’, Journal of Electronic Commerce Research, 12, 4, pp.320–35.

            35. Hayes, S. and Jandrić, P. (2014) ‘Who is really in charge of contemporary education? People and technologies in, against and beyond the neoliberal university’, Open Review of Educational Research, 1, 1, pp.193–210.

            36. Heidenreich, S. and Handrich, M. (2015) ‘What about passive innovation resistance? Investigating adoption-related behavior from a resistance perspective’, Journal of Product Innovation Management, 32, 6, pp.878–903.

            37. Hoffman, A. and Holzhüter, J. (2011) ‘The evolution of higher education’ in Hoffman, A. and Spangehl, S. (eds) Innovations in Higher Education: Igniting the Spark for Success, Rowman & Littlefield, London, pp.3–15.

            38. Hope, A. (2015) ‘Foucault's toolbox: critical insights for education and technology researchers’, Learning, Media and Technology, 40, 4, pp.536–49.

            39. James, F. (2021) ‘Ethics review, neoliberal governmentality and the activation of moral subjects’, Educational Philosophy and Theory, 53, 5, pp. 548–58.

            40. Jones, C. and Healing, G. (2010) ‘Net generation students: agency and choice and the new technologies’, Journal of Computer Assisted Learning, 26, 5, pp.344–56.

            41. Kim, K., Sin, S. and Tsai, T. (2014) ‘Individual differences in social media use for information seeking’, Journal of Academic Librarianship, 40, 2, pp.171–8.

            42. Kou, Y., Gui, X., Chen, Y. and Nardi, B. (2019) ‘Turn to the self in human-computer interaction: care of the self in negotiating the human–technology relationship’, Proceedings of the 2019 CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems, Glasgow, May, available at https://www.researchgate.net/publication/330238793_Turn_to_the_Self_in_Human-Computer_Interaction_Care_of_the_Self_in_Negotiating_the_Human-Technology_Relationship/link/5c354beaa6fdccd6b59d8758/download (accessed June 2021).

            43. Langer-Crame, M., Killen, C., Beetham H., Knight S. and Newman, T. (2019) Digital Experience Insights Survey 2019: Findings from Students in UK Further and Higher Education, JISC, Bristol, available at https://www.jisc.ac.uk/reports/digital-experience-insights-survey-2019-students-uk (accessed June 2021).

            44. Laurillard, D. (2014) ‘What is the problem for which MOOCs are the solution?‘, #ALTC Blog: News and Views from the ALT Community, 26 June, available at https://altc.alt.ac.uk/blog/2014/06/what-is-the-problem-for-which-moocs-are-the-solution/#gref (accessed June 2021).

            45. Leitch, T. (2014) Knowledge, Authority and Liberal Education in the Digital Age, Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore MD.

            46. Levine, A. (1980) Why Innovation Fails, State University of New York Press, Albany NY.

            47. Lianos, M. and Douglas, M. (2000) ‘Dangerization and the end of deviance: the institutional environment’, British Journal of Criminology, 40, 2, pp.261–78.

            48. Lindsay, J. and Hopkins, M. (2010) ‘From experience: disruptive innovation and the need for disruptive intellectual asset strategy’, Journal of Product Innovation Management, 27, 2, pp.283–90.

            49. Loveday, V. (2018) ‘The neurotic academic: anxiety, casualisation, and governance in the neoliberalising university’, Journal of Cultural Economy, 11, 2, pp.154–66.

            50. Ma, J. and Cai, Y. (2021) ‘Innovations in an institutionalised higher education system: the role of embedded agency’, Higher Education, 7 January, available at https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10734-021-00679-7 (accessed June 2021).

            51. Manokha, I. (2018) ‘Surveillance: the DNA of platform capital – the case of Cambridge Analytica put into perspective’, Theory and Event, 21, 4, pp.891–913.

            52. Marginson, S. (2013) ‘The impossibility of capitalist markets in higher education’, Journal of Education Policy, 28, 3, pp.353–70.

            53. Markides, C. (2006) ‘Disruptive innovation: in need of better theory’, Journal of Product Innovation Management, 23, 1, pp.19–25.

            54. McGregor, J. (2007) ‘Clayton Christensen's innovation brain’, Bloomberg, 18 June, available at https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2007-06-15/clayton-christensens-innovation-brainbusinessweek-business-news-stock-market-and-financial-advice (accessed June 2021).

            55. Meishar-Tal, H. and Levenberg, A. (2021) ‘In times of trouble: higher education lecturers’ emotional reaction to online instruction during COVID-19 outbreak', Education and Information Technologies, 30 April, available at https://link.springer.com/content/pdf/10.1007/s10639-021-10569-1.pdf (accessed June 2021).

            56. Newman, T., Beetham, H. and Knight, S. (2018) Digital Experience Insights Survey 2018: Findings from Students in UK Further and Higher Education, JISC, Bristol, available at https://www.jisc.ac.uk/reports/digital-experience-insights-survey-2018-students-uk (accessed June 2021).

            57. Ng'ambi, D. and Bozalek, V. (2015) ‘Massive open online courses (MOOCs): disrupting teaching and learning practices in higher education’, British Journal of Educational Technology, 46, 3, pp.451–4.

            58. Norman, D. and Verganti, R. (2014) ‘Incremental and radical innovation: design research vs. technology and meaning change’, Design Issues, 30, 1, pp.78–96.

            59. Peddiwell, J. (1939) The Saber-Toothed Curriculum, McGraw-Hill, Columbus OH.

            60. Prensky, M. (2001) ‘Digital natives, digital immigrants’, On the Horizon, 9, 5, available at https://www.marcprensky.com/writing/Prensky%20-%20Digital%20Natives,%20Digital%20Immigrants%20-%20Part1.pdf (accessed June 2021).

            61. Richardson, J., Wardale, D. and Lord, L. (2019) ‘The “double-edged sword” of a sessional academic career’, Higher Education Research and Development, 38, 3, pp.623–37.

            62. Richterich, A. (2018) ‘How data-driven research fuelled the Cambridge Analytica controversy’, Partecipazione e Conflitto, 11, 2, pp.528–43.

            63. Rienties, B., Giesbers, B., Lygo-Baker, S., Ma, H. and Rees, R. (2016) ‘Why some teachers easily learn to use a new virtual learning environment: a technology acceptance perspective’, Interactive Learning Environments, 24, 3, pp.539–52.

            64. Risso, L. (2018) ‘Harvesting your soul? Cambridge Analytica and Brexit’ in Jansohn, C. (ed.) Brexit Means Brexit: Selected Proceedings of the Symposium, Academy of Science and Literature, Mainz, pp.75–90, available at http://www.adwmainz.de/fileadmin/user_upload/Brexit-Symposium_Online-Version.pdf#page=75 (accessed June 2021).

            65. Smuts, R., Lalitha, V. and Khan, H. (2017) ‘Change management guidelines that address barriers to technology adoption in an HEI context’ in 2017 IEEE 7th International Advance Computing Conference (IACC), January, Hyderabad, pp.754–8.

            66. Stark, L. (2016) ‘Out of their depths: “moral kinds” and the interpretation of evidence in Foucault's modern episteme’, History and Theory, 55, 4, pp.131–47.

            67. Turner, R. and Gassaway, C. (2019) ‘Between kudzu and killer apps: finding human ground between the monoculture of MOOCs and online mechanisms for learning’, Educational Philosophy and Theory, 51, 4, pp.380–90.

            68. Vallas, S. and Christin, A. (2018) 'Work and identity in an era of precarious employment: how workers respond to 'personal branding' discourse', Work and Occupations, 45, 1, pp.3–37.

            69. Vallas, S. and Cummins, E. (2015) ‘Personal branding and identity norms in the popular business press: enterprise culture in an age of precarity’, Organization Studies, 36, 3, pp.293–319.

            70. Vidal, E. and Mitchell, W. (2013) ‘When do first entrants become first survivors?‘, Long Range Planning, 46, 4–5, pp.335–47.

            71. von Hippel, E., Ogawa, S. de Jong, J. (2011) ‘The age of the consumer-innovator’, MIT Sloan Management Review, 53, 1, pp.27–35.

            72. Wang, F. and Burton, J. (2013) ‘Second Life in education: a review of publications from its launch to 2011‘, British Journal of Educational Technology, 44, 3, pp.357–71.

            73. Wierzbicki, A. and Nakamori, Y. (2007) ‘The episteme of knowledge civilisation’ in Proceedings of the Eighth International Symposium on Knowledge and Systems Sciences, Japan Advanced Institute of Science and Technology, Ishikawa, November, available at http://hdl.handle.net/10119/4101 (accessed June 2021).

            74. Yamagata-Lynch, L., Cowan, J. and Luetkehans, L. (2015) ‘Transforming disruptive technology into sustainable technology: understanding the front-end design of an online program at a brick-and-mortar university’, The Internet and Higher Education, 26, pp.10–18.

            75. Žižek, S. (2018) Like a Thief in Broad Daylight, Allen Lane, London.

            76. Zuboff, S. (2019) The Age of Surveillance Capitalism: The Fight for a Human Future at the New Frontier of Power, Public Affairs, New York.


            Comment on this article