Academic Digital

Disruption with Online Education

A really interesting article in this weeks Times Higher Education¬†which considers how the US system (and probably those of us who end up echoing their systems) is about to face turbulent times with higher and higher fees causing ‘disruption’ as students look for other ways to engage:

This disruption, they say, will force down costs, lure prospective students away from traditional “core” universities, transform the way academics work, and spell the end for the traditional scholarly calendar based around face-to-face teaching


Online education will bring a shift by opening higher education to a new middle group in the concentric circles, they argue.

“We use the word ‘disruptive’ not because it is a breakthrough improvement for that middle group, but because it transforms the product or service into something that is so much more affordable and simple that a whole new population can afford it and find that it is accessible to them,” Christensen says.

The book asserts that until now, unlike other industries, higher education has not had a “disruptive innovation” that has forced the sector to drive down costs. The result, says Christensen, has been “sustained and difficult price increases”


“Almost invariably, the [established] leaders find it impossible to lead the industry in disruption,” he says. “It’s not technology per se that keeps them in the middle, but the very fact that it is affordable and accessible makes it almost impossible for the [sector’s traditional] leaders to address.”

Christensen suggests that instead it will be new institutions and providers that will lead the way in online learning innovations. “What you will see is that online learning will take root in this larger population: people who, either because of the nature of their life or their situation, can’t go to a campus but can do it online.

This is a challenging piece, and one worth a read, as I’m sure the questions will be asked in the UK shortly.