Conventional wisdom casts online learning as a disruptive force that will revolutionize higher education by lowering costs and expanding access. But a recent survey has found that costs for online learning are no less than, and in some cases more than, costs for traditional instruction. How could this so-called disruptive force have resulted in only an expansion of the status quo?
Julia Freeland Fisher, expert on the future of education and director of education research at the Clayton Christensen Institute, answers that question in a new article: ”Many traditional colleges and universities are deploying online learning as a hybrid innovation, not a disruptive one.” This difference is significant – disruptive innovations reinvent business models by taking advantage of improperly served markets, while hybrid innovations take potentially disruptive ideas and graft them on to existing models. Online learning appears to have been subject to the latter, extending the current business model rather than reinventing it. As such, online learning may produce higher margins for institutions, but as Fisher says, “Merely integrating technology or distance learning into an institution’s [existing] strategy will not set it on a disruptive trajectory, nor will it put a dent in the institution’s ability to tackle affordability and scale… in the long run, institutions risk missing the true opportunity that online learning stands to offer.”
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