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Making Sense of Disruptive Technologies and Higher Education a Theory of Change the Growth of Online Programs and the Next Generation of Delivery Models

Making Sense of Disruptive Technologies and Higher Education a Theory of Change the Growth of Online Programs and the Next Generation of Delivery Models

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Stretching the higher education dollar
Stretching the higher education dollar

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Categories:Types, Research
Published by: American Enterprise Institute on Apr 11, 2013
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial


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Making Sense of Disruptive Technologies and Higher Education: A Theory oChange, the Growth of Online Programs, and the Next Generation of DeliveryModels
Paul LeBlancSouthern New Hampshire Universityp.leblanc@snhu.edu
 Draft: Please do not cite without permission from the author.
Prepared for the American Enterprise Institute Conference,“Stretching the Higher Education Dollar”August 2, 2012 The collected papers for this conference can be found at http://www.aei.org/events/2012/08/02/stretching-the-higher-education-dollar/.
Draft: Please do not cite without permission from the author.
“Invent the next delivery model that might put our growing online educational programs out of business.” That is the charge to the Innovation Lab at Southern New Hampshire University(SNHU) and even as our College of Online and Continuing Education (COCE) experiencesmeteoric growth in offering conventional online programs, the Innovation Lab, essentially ourResearch and Development group, is working on the Pathways Project. Pathways means toharness competency-based learning models, social networking theories and methods, self-pacedlearning, open educational resources, and strong assessment to offer a radically new degreeprogramradical in terms of price (our target is $4,000 for a two-year associates degree),precision of learning outcomes, and assurance of quality and mastery. It is a model that wouldhave been unthinkable just ten or maybe even five years ago.Many colleges and universities are announcing new online offerings ranging fromsystemwide and conventional efforts such as the $50 million University of Texas Virtual Campsto MIT and Harvards joint venture into MOOCs (Massively Open Online Courses), theawkwardly named edX.
Many are doing so as a rear guard attempt to fend off new onlinecompetitors or to reassure worried boards of trustees (think University of Virginia) that they arebeing responsive to the changes in higher education. Indeed, the recent and implicit blessings of online education by our nation’s most elite universities is a signal that large scale online learninghas fully emerged, is here to stay, and will be increasingly accepted as a respectable pathway to adegree. It may even signal that online learning can no longer be considered a “disruptiveinnovation,” even if many institutions feel threatened by it and unprepared to compete for onlinestudents.
What we now know with certainty is that well-designed online education provides
service to students,
access to programs and resources, and
economics to the provider institutions (though often little savings to students).
In that1
Draft: Please do not cite without permission from the author.
sense, online learning improves, extends, and
existing models more than it actuallydisrupts them.However, even as much of traditional higher education is catching up with onlinelearning as a sustaining innovation, next generation models are poised to more fundamentallychange and disrupt higher education as we have always known it. Our industry, critical to thenation’s health and future in so many ways, is moving into a phase of disruptive innovation notdissimilar to what happened in the world of print journalism and the music industry. Thoseindustries, like education, are fundamentally about the creation, curating, and consumption of information. Technological innovations thoroughly reshaped delivery systems, business models,and economics in those industries in ways that are still underway and not fully worked out.Education, however, is a more complex endeavor that is highly regulated and subsidized, and itsparadigm shift is likely to be slower. But it doesn’t feel that way to a world that has remainedlargely unchanged since the 1400s.Online education, as it has largely taken hold, is an evolution that may be giving way to arevolution in the ways we think about education. What follows is an attempt to provide contextand a theory of change, to share some insights into large scale online education, and to explorethe next generation changes now gaining traction.
How Did We Get Here?
Higher education has become an “above the fold” topic of national discussion, debate, and handwringing. We live in a time of innovation, entrepreneurship, and invention driven by:
 The emergence of new technologies;
An access and cost crisis;2

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