Disruptive Technologies: Online Learning

For this blog post, I decided to read the article “The top 5 disruptive technologies in higher ed” found on eCampus News. A link to the article can be found here. First on that list of disruptive technologies was online learning. Since online learning has become the method of choice during the pandemic, I thought this would be interesting to discuss.

The article points out that online learning allows people who previously were unable to attend classes at colleges or universities to do so. I believe that this is an incredibly important benefit of online education. All throughout high school I was warned that it is better to continue straight into college, because people who “took a break” and/or went into the workforce for a while tended not to go back to school. People graduate high school, get a job, start making a little bit of money, establish roots, start lives, and afterwards either do not want to or cannot go back and get a higher education. Then, several years down the road, they often wish they had went to college, because it can be hard to rise through the ranks of the workforce or develop a meaningful career without a college degree. Online higher education is able to reach these people who previously would have had to put their entire lives on hold to receive an education. The flexibility of online classes allows these people to work their education around their already-established life, and often even continue working. This also allows more people who may have struggled financially to attend college before to do so while still having an income. Online learning also allows people who are in the same type of situation, where they received an associate’s or bachelor’s degree but now realize they need to receive a higher degree, to do so.

Another advantage of online learning is the drastically lower cost. With online learning, similar to an online business vs. a business with physical stores, there are much fewer associated overhead costs. There is no campus that needs to be built or maintained, buildings to be furnished, much less equipment to be bought and maintained, fewer staff members required to keep everything running, etc. This translates to drastically lower costs for the education overall. With the prices of a traditional higher education so high and seemingly continuing to rise, this is a large advantage to students. Not only this, but a hot-button issue lately has been whether student loans should be reduced, forgiven, or whether college should be free of cost all together. Online education may play an important role in the feasibility of any of these options being discussed. While it is probably pretty unrealistic for the US government to send everyone to a four-year university for free, it is easier to envision some degree of financial support for cheaper online alternatives.

Not only is online leaning important in these types of situations, but it is especially important during the current pandemic. It is hard to imagine what would have happened with higher education without the ability for everything to be online. Without this option, colleges and universities would have had to decide between having in-person classes anyway, or canceling classes all together. That would have been an extremely large decision to make, because this pandemic is beginning to look like a multiple-year ordeal. What would these colleges and universities have done? Could they realistically go one or two years without revenue? Alternatively, could they really expect everyone to come to class and risk exposure to a deadly disease? Even if they did expect this, would enough students register to make it worth it? There are endless what-if scenarios one could think through, but one thing is clear: the ability for higher education to move online during this pandemic was a life-saver (no pun intended.)

It is hard to imagine the world today without online learning. Even before the pandemic, online higher education was becoming incredibly popular. Now, with the pandemic, the increased need for a degree to remain competitive in the workforce, the high costs of an in-person education, and countless other reasons, online education is more popular than ever before, and likely is the way of the future. Thus, it is becoming increasingly important that higher education adapt to this disruptive technology.

M. Leigh, & Goldrick, Thomas. (2017, June 5). The top 5 disruptive technologies in higher ed. eCampus News. https://www.ecampusnews.com/2017/06/05/disruptive-technologies-higher-ed/

2 Replies to “Disruptive Technologies: Online Learning”

  1. Hi Austin,
    I really enjoyed reading your argument for the value of online education. I agree that it’s hard to imagine how universities would have navigated the present pandemic and remained solvent if online education hadn’t been an option! Easy to take that fundamental asset for granted when considering the multitude of challenges confronting students, faculty, and staff at present. While I’ve held the same belief you describe here of the cheaper cost of online education relative to in-person learning, I was surprised to hear university leadership at Virginia Tech say during a town hall discussion that the cost of the pivot to online learning in late-Spring and Fall 2020 didn’t prove to be much of a cost saver. Makes me curious about what the financial breakdown looks like, particularly when we consider online learning at various scales. (I.e. at what point is an online learning platform large enough for the benefits to outweigh the costs?). Great read – thanks for this!

  2. Thank you, Austin for sharing your thought with us. Actually, online learning became part of our life, especially in the education field. Currently, with this pandemic, it will be hard to continue the learning and teaching process without online learning. On other hand, faculty have a different experience of using distance learning. This means that many faculty members who have never been tried distance learning, now they absolutely have experienced it with this pandemic.


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