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1 Disruptive Technology and Higher Education Why Online Education Won t Replace College-Yet is the title of an article from The Chronicle of Higher Education. The article discusses online education and outlines what in author s view are some of the problems with Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs). The problems brought forth in the article are; 1. How easy it is to cheat, 2. It is hard for exceptional students to stand out, 3. Employers may be adverse to hiring individuals who hold a less traditional degree or credential, 4. Enrollment sizes make grading difficult, 5. Online courses aren t necessarily immune to the cost increasing arms race of traditional higher education (mostly centered around prestige and rigor). These problems cover a wide variety of services associated with higher education and bring up some thinking points when it comes to the idea of MOOCs disrupting higher education. Over the past few years, there has been a growing chorus of people who have begun to predict the death of traditional higher education at the hand of expanding availability and use of MOOCs. Technology advocates believe that advances in the ways in which content can be delivered via the internet pose threats to the business model of higher education. The problems listed above get at various services provided, beyond content, encompassed in a higher or post-secondary education. Among other things, college and universities provide content and delivery methods for this content, they assess learning and ability, they serve as a credentialing service for students and employers and they provide opportunities for networking and socialization. In many ways, what these institutions charge for is a bundle of services. Much of the discussion surrounding MOOCs and online education addresses only the content and to some extent the delivery pieces of this higher education bundle described above. This idea of higher education being a bundle of services has serious implications on the idea of disruptive technology within higher education.

2 A technology only becomes disruptive when it disrupts the income stream of the current industry (Christensen et al. 2001). In an article for the Washington Monthly, Kevin Carey (2012) writes about his experience spending time in California with tech entrepreneurs looking to hack higher education. These individuals are developing web based platforms related to higher education. These platforms range greatly in their size and scope. At the large end is the Minerva project, which aims to become a new elite American university that is based online and has facilities throughout the world where students would chose to study. It plans on enrolling around 10,000 students. The rationale behind this is that the demand for such an education has far outstripped the capacity of the industry. The project just received $25 million in venture capitalist funds. To put this in comparison, Yale has recently decided to expand their student body (capacity) by 800 students, requiring two new college halls at $600 million each. This is one of the main attractions of technology; it offers the possibility of educating large numbers of people using a relatively small amount of resources. At the lower end, are projects that aim to do small tasks, like allow students to take a picture (using a smart phone) of a page in a book and have that picture convert into text that can be highlighted. Regardless of how large or small the projects are, Carey s (2012) piece documents a widespread belief that higher education is doomed. This belief that seems to ignore much of the services higher education provides beyond content. In discussing technology in any field, it is important to distinguish between disruptive and sustaining technology (Christensen et. al 2001). As hinted at earlier, disruptive technology disrupts the revenue stream of established firms within a sector and helps firms escape the issues of tradeoffs in relation to quality, access, and cost (Christensen et. al 2001). Within the field of higher education, the hope is that through technology and innovation the issue of this iron triangle of tradeoffs will be escaped by allowing higher levels of access by reducing costs without effecting quality (Christensen et. al 2012). On the other hand, sustaining technology is technology which augments the current business

3 model. Many of the startup companies which Carey (2012) highlights in his article seem to fit this description. The products they sell have not fundamentally changed anything regarding higher education, but rather have improved the way services are delivered. While the internet and MOOCs provide competition for traditional higher education within the area of content, it seems that MOOCs do not disrupt the other areas that higher education serves. MOOCs and other forms of online learning have yet to match the delivery of content by in person interaction with professors, which many institutions market themselves on. Additionally, companies like Coursera and Udacity have yet to break the strangle hold on credentialing and assessment of student learning that brick and mortar colleges and universities currently have (Youngberg 2012). While one may argue that these physical campuses do not do a great job measuring what students learn, there is still at least the perception that a degree earned in person is more meaningful than any sort of credit or credential earned online. As long as traditional institutions have a corner of the credential market, it is hard to see some of the doom and gloom predictions coming true for higher education (Youngberg 2012). As established firms continue to meet the needs of their customers through sustaining innovation, they will inevitably end up leaving certain groups of people behind. This creates the opportunity for disruptive innovation to enter the market by allowing it to compete against nonconsumption, rather than competing for current customers of established firms (Christensen et. al 2001). This idea can be applied to higher education. As the current model of higher education added various services and functions to cater to its established customer base, there seemed to be groups which experienced numerous barriers to higher education, such as cost. Many public policy measures have been aimed at solving these problems, but these issues still persist. When taken on a global scale, issues of access are even larger.

4 Rather than competing with traditional higher education campuses, it seems that in foreseeable future, MOOCs make more sense within the context of competing against the non-consumption of the underserved groups touched on above (Christensen et al 2012). While online courses fall short in offering aspects like interactive and collaborative learning (delivery),socialization, networking, and credentials that come with a certain degree of prestige, they do offer a way to provide a certain level of access to a certain level of education to underserved groups in the United State and across the world. When viewed this way, it is interesting that much of the activity surrounding online education is taking place via elite institutions. In a report about the disruptive capabilities of technology in higher education, Christensen et al (2012) makes the argument that trying to impose MOOCs into the business model of the traditional college or university will not be successful. Doing so is what Christensen et al (2001) calls cramming, which almost always ends in failure. Instead, Christensen et al (2012) argues that MOOCs will find their success through new business models that are different than the one represented by higher education. It appears that online learning is here to stay. Whether this is in the form of disruptive innovation or simply innovation which sustains the current business model is yet to be seen. However, as technology improves, the cost of innovation decreases, allowing more groups to enter the field where higher education and technology intersect. As this number of would be innovators increases, it may just be a matter of time before a robust enough technological innovation intersects with other factors related to higher education, allowing for disruptive innovation. However, similar predictions were made with the creation of the printing press, radio, television, and the first two decades of the internet. With everything in mind, it seems unlikely that employees of traditional colleges and universities should be in imminent fear for their jobs yet.

5 Works Cited Carey, K. (2012). The siege of academe. Washington Monthly. Retrieved 12/5/2012 from ock_in php?page=1 Christensen, C., Horn, M. B., and Soares, L. C. L. (2012). Disrupting college how disruptive innovation can deliver quality and affordability to postsecondary education. Technical report, The New America Foundation, Washington, DC Christensen,C., Aaron, S., Clark, W., (2001). Disruption in Education, in The Internet and The University: Forum 2001, EDUCAUSE, Boulder, CO, 2002, pp Youngberg, D., (2012). Why Online Education Won't Replace College Yet. Chronicle of Higher Education, August 13,2013. Retrieved 12/5/2012 from Education-Wont/133531/

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