Social Online Learning: Complementary or Disruptive?

Last week Forbes published an interesting article about the recognition of the value of online education (read it here:, a trend causing general concern within the University sector who are worried about the trend “disrupting” their business model. It is a concern which has led to at least some of the nation’s top Universities to adopt online learning platforms as the exclusive carrier of their content.

“We don’t want to be Blockbuster when Netflix is coming in.” As high-end creators and distributors of knowledge, universities fear the Internet will disrupt their business models, much as newspapers, record companies and movie and TV studios have been disrupted

The resultant online course material has been met with an equal backlash from the stuffier of the faculty who worry the rush to push content online will devalue education generally, as well as the lofty status of their institutions and, by association, themselves.

As the article correctly points out this misses the point entirely. There is a huge difference between attending University as a full-time vocation and consuming lectures as a “casual learner”. Even where it is in a social learning context and delivered by experts it’s obviously not the same thing – the value proposition is quite distinct.

There is nothing “disruptive” at all about mLearning (or eLearning) for the University “business model”, rather it represents an entirely complementary piece of technology. Providing content for an online learning platform is a high-quality content marketing strategy.

Even if the contents are official components of a course it’s still not competing with the University experience – though it is “democratising” learning, and promoting learning (not to mention the institution itself) both complementary to the aims of education itself.


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