Just because online learning isn’t displacing traditional higher education tomorrow, doesn’t mean disruption isn’t in the works


Meg Evans, a former research assistant at the Clayton Christensen Institute and now the social innovation manager at Udemy, and I coauthored this piece.

In 2009, Joe Marani, a resident of Marshfield, Mass., lost his job during the height of the recession. Having only partially completed college, he was left with few options. Like many Americans, Joe made the decision to invest in himself by going back to school. With a passion for art, he enrolled in a 3D Animation and Interactive Media certificate program at Boston University.

A year later, Joe completed the certificate program. But he couldn’t find work. 3D Animation studios in the area were no longer hiring. Having invested significant money and a year of his life already in his education, he did not have the time or money to complete another degree program. But he needed an education to develop the skills that could get him a job.

Joe instead enrolled in a simple online course on building websites with WordPress, which, full disclosure, is a course offered by Udemy, an online learning company that offers a marketplace of courses and is where one of the coauthors works.

(Next page: The need for affordable and self-paced online courses)

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