Online Courses Don't Threaten Traditional Higher Education - Economic Intelligence (usnews.com)
"Clay Christensen's theory of disruptive innovation has captured the imagination of educational technology higher circles in which I travel. For example, at the recent EDUCAUSE conference, the largest gathering of academic technology professionals, the emergence of massively open online courses, or MOOCs, was largely framed as a disruptive innovation. But is that true? According to Christensen's theoretical framework, incumbent organizations (including traditional universities such as where I am employed) excel at sustaining innovations. We are very good at making incremental improvements in our services; improvements that both respond to immediate customer (students, parents, faculty, legislators) needs but also tend to raise costs (tuition). Disruptive innovations challenge existing models by offering a service or product (education, credentials) that is not the result of linear or incremental improvements. This new service or product is often appealing to nonconsumers, as initially the service/product is both of lower quality and of much lower costs than that offered by the incumbent. Today's free MOOCs from Harvard/MIT's edX division cannot compete with a Harvard or MIT educational experience or degree, but edX allows the vast numbers of learners unable to access a Harvard or MIT education to do so for no cost (the classes) or very low cost (the future edX credential). Free open online courses from Coursera or Udacity don't substitute for a traditional higher education experience so much as offer a different model for what higher education can be. This new model unbundles learning from credentialing, with cohort-based online classes being offered for free, while value added services (such as taking an exam for a credential) can involve payments. Credentialing charges will never be as high as traditional tuition payments, but they don't need to be as MOOCs bring higher education to scale. All of which leads to a few important questions:  Will MOOCs be the disruptive innovation that does to higher-ed what personal computers did to the minicomputer industry, what mp3s did to CDs, or what Netflix did to Blockbuster?  Will higher-ed incumbents be capable of recognizing that their core business model, a bundled high cost program based on scarcity, is threatened by massively open online education?  Will traditional higher education organizations be able to recognize the emergence of a disruptive innovation such as MOOCS, and then have the agility to realign investments away from incremental improvements and towards fundamentally different models? ..."