Dixie Darr

In creativity, Learning on February 24, 2009 at 4:11 pm

Disrupting Higher Education

Disruptive innovation, as described by Harvard professor and author Clayton Christensen in his 2003 book, The Innovator’s Dilemma, are new products and services that attract a previously unserved market because they are cheaper, simpler, smaller, and more convenient to use. Frequently, such innovations will not appeal to traditional customers because they are perceived as having inferior quality.

In last year’s Disrupting Class, Christensen, along with Michael B. Horn, applied the concept to education, suggesting that online education was the innovation that will provide the disruption to revitalize education.

While online education as it exists today, is certainly more convenient with the potential to reach hundreds of millions of people all over the world without regard to geographic location. However, colleges and universities typically charge a higher tuition rate for online courses, because of the required investment in technology. So, while online education is theoretically available to most people, the cost can be prohibitive.

Along comes the University of the People, (UoP) which promises to open the gates of higher education to anyone in the world interested in attending college because it is tuition free.

That’s right. Students pay no tuition. At its website, the university promises to revolutionize higher education by providing universal access to college studies-even in the poorest parts of the world. How is that possible? The university, which will start in April, uses the large and growing reserve of open courseware provided by an impressive variety of colleges all over the world. Students learn on their own and in online study communities led by qualified scholars. They will pay nominal application fee ($15-$50) and examination fees ($10-$100), which will be adjusted on a sliding scale based on the student’s country of origin. Initially, UoP will offer bachelor’s degrees in Business Administration and Computer Science, with more to come. Ironically, this innovation depends on traditional higher education for its curriculum, but has the possibility to destroy traditional higher education. It could happen quicker than you think.

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