Educause 2012: 5 ways online learning is disrupting education

As one of the hot buzz terms and concepts in education this year, massive open online courses (MOOCs) are reshaping the way institutions offer learning services, and Michael B. Horn, the co-founder and executive director of Innosight Institute, specializes in disruption.

Horn spoke on Wednesday at the Educause 2012 conference in Denver, and Education Dive sat in on his talk about the changes that are currently underway, ushering in new models in higher education. As it happens, Horn did not stop at higher ed and went on to address what MOOCs could eventually do to high schools as well.

For everyone who was not able to attend Horn's presentation, "Disrupting College," we noted five insights he shared about how online learning is disrupting traditional education systems:


"University professors, while they're really good at research, are not really good at teaching and learning," Horn said. "It's not what they get incentivized around. It's not what business models are built around."

Citing examples of personal computers finding markets where minicomputers failed and Sony finding a market for its transistor radios with teenagers, he proposed that even if established companies find ways to bring new technology to market, new startups can often be the ones that make the same technology succeed because they are not chained to existing business models.

In the cases of MOOC providers, such as Coursera and Udacity, business models are still being formed, but they are likely to be more flexible than existing higher ed institutions alone as they find ways to make models work.


Horn predicted that by 2014 50% of students in American postsecondary education would be taking at least one online course. While he did not suggest that online learning companies would replace universities and colleges, he stressed that they will likely chip away at smaller services and functions that exist in traditional schools.


“Different students have different learning needs at different times,” Horn stated, and he pointed out that that situation may provide big opportunities for disruptive models to step in and offer more efficient solutions to individualized instruction.

Academics may argue about the roles that students' varying needs, multiple intelligences, learning styles, talents and motivations play, but online learning is inherently modular and could serve related demands in the marketplace.


An audience member asked Horn if he thought MOOCs might play a role in cases where students are not interested in getting their money's worth from a quality education, but rather just want credit hours or class completions that provide a means to an end. He called that line of thought "the right question" and said that MOOCs could be the answer in some cases, even if they do not become a panacea.


"I actually think in many cases it will be a bigger impact on K-12 than higher education, particularly in advanced placement courses and so forth. I think it's going to be a massive disruption of AP courses, because if you can get a credit from MIT for physics or a 5 on the AP physics course, which one is going to be more valuable? And I suspect that the MOOCs will be more affordable."

"I don't think we've seen the other shoe drop on that yet, but I think it's going to be a profound impact, mainly in high school, but also then through the world in the places—there are 70 million students around the world that have no access to primary education and 200 million who have no access to secondary education."


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Filed Under: Higher Ed K12 Technology Online Learning