Traditional Higher Education Isn’t Adapting Fast Enough

Frustrated student solving a problem a math problemOnline learning in many forms, from separate online colleges, online degree programs and individual online classes have taken the higher education world by storm. While most colleges and universities have already started to embrace this, there are many that think it has happened too late and is not changing fast enough to meet the demands of the new generation of students.

Clayton Christensen spoke these sentiments during a keynote speech at the American Council on Education’s Annual Meeting. As a Harvard Business School professor and the author of the books, The Innovator’s Dilemma and The Innovator’s Prescription, he is known as “an authority on how innovative technologies affect businesses and economies.”

He makes the connection between businesses and higher education by pointing out that newer, more modern technologies of start-ups “have toppled the giants of [an] industry.” Despite the rise in availability of online colleges and courses over the past few years, Christensen notes that higher education didn’t bat an eyelid at the rise in popularity of online learning until it became too big to ignore. He continued by saying, “When technology gets good enough, it sucks customers out of the old and into the new. It doesn’t work the other way around.”

The old model of defining “goodness at a university” was hiring the best teachers and having them create competitive course material and testing procedures. But the old model is quickly “losing relevance.” With most colleges and universities relying on out-dated and “inflexible” testing and learning strategies, online college programs undermine that foundation with newer models of customized and individualized learning.

Here are the facts:

  • Student enrollment for online colleges increased 21 percent in 2010 alone
  • Student enrollment for traditional colleges increased by just 2 percent
  • Online college classes boasted 1 million more students in 2010 compared to 2009
  • 5.6 million took “at least on web-based class in the fall 2009 semester”

While traditional universities can still boast their face-to-face advantages, like on-campus mentoring, beautiful campuses and facilities and other qualities that can’t be matched with an online college, the fact remains that “new competitive alternatives” are going to become the norm and to keep up, “fundamental change is essential” in higher education.

Even public opinion about online colleges and online education has changed. From 2003 to 2010 the shift of people thinking “online college classes were the same or superior to face-to-face classes” grew from 57 percent to 66 percent (Babson College’s annual survey of online education). Additionally, these other statistics were revealed:

  • Three out of 4 respondents that were enrolled in public higher education “agreed that online college classes were equivalent to or better than a traditional education.”
  • More and more administrators in higher education institutions have made online learning and curriculum a major strategy for the longevity of their institution.
  • Of that, 66 percent made clear that online college classes were integral in that long-term mission. This is a 14 percent increase since 2002, the year of the first survey.

Making the changes can prove difficult in the coming years, however, since many higher education institutions have been forced to make budget cuts and concessions. Yet within the strict budget that many colleges are facing, it seems as if some of them will embrace online education in a bigger way to brace for a more competitive future.

Read the whole article here.

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