Why Disruption and eLearning Matter to Higher Education

I graduated from a small liberal arts college in 2015. During the four years I was in college, I didn’t take any online courses and still purchased most of my textbooks in paper form. I took courses from as many professors who utilized Moodle (an open source LMS) as I did from professors who did not allow e-readers or laptops in class. As I see online education and distance learning grow in popularity, I have to wonder, did I attend college in a digital dark age? Or are we poised on the brink of a technology-driven overhaul in higher education?

While no one can predict exactly to what extent technology will change higher education in the years to come, the past years have already witnessed an increase in excitement and anxiety surrounding the future of online education. Time recently reported that “A Perfect Storm Is Heading Toward Higher Education,” driven in part by technological disruption, while the Harvard Gazette revealed they are “Planning for disruption,” and Todd Hixon, writing for the Forbes blog, claimed “Higher Education Is Now Ground Zero for Technological Disruption.”  

A unifying theme amidst this conversation about higher education and technology is the idea of “disruption.” “Disruptive Innovation,” a concept originally developed by Clayton Christensen in the mid 1990s, is the idea that new technologies disrupt, or even render obsolete, older technologies by overtaking existing markets. For example, disruption occurred in the music industry when CDs replaced cassette tapes and iPods and mp3s replaced CDs.

But how does disruption apply to higher education? No one knows exactly how or whom will upset higher education with technology, but likely the trends toward online courses, universities and distance learning will only become more popular, accessible, and affordable in the future. In September 2014, Elearning magazine reported that almost 70% of college presidents think at least a small degree of disruption is needed in higher education, especially given that only 17% believe that the U.S. education system will be the best in the world in the coming decade. Combined with soaring tuition fees and uncertain job prospects, more and more educators are agreeing that change is needed in higher education–and new technologies are key.  

Who knows what colleges and universities will look like when today’s preschoolers reach college age. Perhaps brick-and-mortar institutions will always exist in some form, but it’s hard to imagine that future colleges and universities will be insulated from the same technologies that have radically changed the newspaper, music, and entertainment industries.

Regardless of whether or not you work in higher education or currently attend college, it’s worth knowing that changes are ahead for colleges and universities. OpenSesame is a great place to start if you’re interested in digital learning, and with 24,000+ courses (and growing) available, the future of online learning may already be here.

Source: “Education Disruption On Its Way.” Elearning! Magazine, Sept./Oct. 2014, pg. 10.