MOOCS – Disruptive innovation or technology?

preeti Event News Leave a Comment


A technology is considered disruptive when it affects an existing business model and/or the core values in the organisation where the technology is to be implemented. It not appear suddenly or in a vacuum: They are the result of evolving customer needs or a significant need for change.

David Santandreu, Manager, Educational Design and Development, Centre for Academic Support and Innovation at University of Adelaide says, “Both terms are used interchangeably in the business and education literature and this often leads to ambiguity and confusion”

According to Christensen (1997), disruptive technologies are typically innovations in technology, whereas disruptive innovations change radically entire markets and this is the major difference: the consequences of the latter and the threats they (might) pose have a bigger impact and are felt more deeply and by more people.

Christensen argued in The Innovator’s Solution (2003) that it is rarely the technology per se that is intrinsically disruptive but rather the business model that the technology is enabling that creates the disruptive impact. In other words, the uses companies or people make of it and the further innovations that it enables them to undertake. It is also the use people make of it that often seems to set in motion the decline of a product or a service. In 2015, mobile phones have often replaced landlines in many parts of the globe and emails, Facebook posts, Tweets or Whatsapp messages are more commonly sent than letters. Public telephones have almost disappeared from the streets and the postal services or public libraries have had to carefully rethink their services and spaces to keep their relevance.

Another important point worth mentioning is that certain particular elements of a technological change can be more or less disruptive and the level of disruption may differ and impact to a greater or lesser extent different/specific areas, within various time frames, shorter or longer.

In summary, for a disruptive innovation to be successful, in other words largely adopted, it needs the following characteristics:

  1. Has to be new (innovative)
  2. Has to be superior in performance (quality and value)
  3. Has to have a low cost
  4. It needs to offer a service or product to non-consumers

In Education, Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) do seem to affect HE institutions business and delivery models to a certain extent (as they have the potential to reach various untapped audiences, replace accredited university and business schools’ courses, a prerogative previously held only by Higher Education institutions, or potentially disrupt the existing credit-hour systems) but they do not tick all the boxes of what truly defines a disruptive innovation (innovative, superior in performance (quality and value), low cost, offers a service or product to non-consumers) and they do not radically and structurally disrupt (in their current form) the entire Higher Education market. In the words of Aaron Silvers (Docebo, 2015), “MOOCs aren’t disrupting academia so much as are other things – and I don’t know that MOOCs are really disrupting much of anything else”.

MOOCs should not therefore be considered as a disruptive innovation but rather a disruptive technology and should be labelled as such in the academic literature.

David will be joining us at EduTECH Asia on 9-10 November where he will be speaking on “Plotting the long term future of online enabled learning in Higher Education”

Don’t miss this opportunity to meet him in person to exchange knowledge and ideas on this important topic.

Sign up before 30 September to enjoy SGD55 off. In addition, bring a group of 3 or more to enjoy additional savings of up to 40%.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *