The success of these online competitors and the crisis among many of higher education’s traditional institutions are far from unique. These are familiar steps in a process known as “disruptive innovation” that has occurred in many industries, from accounting and music to communications and computers. It is the process by which products and services that were once so expensive, complicated, inaccessible, and inconvenient that only a small fraction of people could access them, are transformed into simpler, more accessible and convenient forms that are also, ultimately, lower in cost. We are seeing it happen more rapidly than one could have imagined in higher education, as online learning has exploded: roughly 10 percent of students took at least one online course in 2003, 25 percent in 2008, and nearly 30 percent in the fall of 2009.
Although this transition has begun, much of online learning’s promise for higher education is still on the horizon. For example, online learning has not yet led to lower prices from the perspective of many students—even though many of the online universities operate at lower costs than the traditional universities and enable students to fit coursework around existing jobs or other responsibilities. To date, moreover, significant portions of online learning have not taken advantage of this new medium to personalize instruction and create new, dynamic and individualized learning pathways within a course for students.
Clayton Christensen — Colleges in crisis. Emphasis mine.