Why online education won’t kill your campus

The country’s higher education system seems ripe for tech industry disruption. Student debt is out of control. Graduation rates are unacceptably low. And employers still can’t find enough new recruits with the training they’re looking for, CNN Money reports.

Enter online learning. Specifically, Massive Open Online Courses, or MOOCs, have been heralded as a savior for students disadvantaged by an inefficient, often rigid, and increasingly pricey higher ed system.

The cost advantage of recording one lecture and broadcasting it to thousands of students regardless of location is undeniable. And the potential social benefits are huge. Andrew Ng, founder of leading MOOC-maker Coursera, said in a recent interview with Fortune he hopes the flexibility and practicality of free courses on-demand will make “a great education a fundamental human right.”

There’s plenty of interest so far: Coursera raked in $43 million in Series B funding in July and has more than 80 universities and other institutions offering courses on its platform, broadcasting to millions of students.

The top three MOOC-makers — Coursera, Udacity, and EdX — all appear on the cusp of convincing major institutions to offer some of their courses for credit. Cue many, many articles expressing deep angst that the traditional on-campus learning environment as we know it could cease to exist.

Though they may yet wreak havoc on brick and mortar institutions (particularly on expensive middle-tier liberal arts schools offering no clear route to employment), online education seems to be a ways away from becoming the terrifying disruptor many thought it would be.

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