The Disruptive Power of Online Education

Cover of The Disruptive Power of Online Education

Challenges, Opportunities, Responses



Table of contents

(13 chapters)

Part I Online Programmes and Programme Design


Whilst online and blended learning approaches are now widely used by many higher education institutions, the extent and depth of eLearning implementation often depend more on the efforts of enthusiastic individual lecturers rather than effective institution-wide strategies. Innovation is thus frequently restricted to local settings and the enrichment of existing educational approaches rather than radically questioning current paradigms and creating new ways of delivering education. In recent years, there has been more urgency in calling for a deeper re-thinking of how higher education can be made more flexible, scalable and individualised not only at the level of courses but in a systemic and strategic way. This article describes a strategic approach to implementing blended learning at Management Center Innsbruck in Austria. I argue that the whole-of-programme approach taken in this case is an effective way to strategically introduce sustainable and scalable blended learning, and thus not only respond to but actively shape the disruption brought about by online education.


This chapter presents a case study of a ‘Massive Open Online Courses’ (MOOCs) structure that is offered through an agreement between a traditional university and a MOOC provider. This arrangement has been helping in reaching very large numbers of learners in the Middle East. In implementing this agreement, I categorise the concerns of three key stakeholders (administrators, faculty and students) regarding this mode of instruction. A framework (abbreviated as LOGIC – LEADS – LEARNing) is proposed that could be of use to higher education institutions when they embark on non-traditional education. A common concern among the primary stakeholders was the issue of legitimacy of such an education. I argue the MOOCs so far do not represent a substitute or a threat to traditional face-to-face education. In addition, there are no foreseen reputational risks for universities if MOOCs are included as a mode of education. The value from MOOCs needs to be seen from the perspectives of students and other stakeholders. MOOCs have the potential to lead to positive consequences for the university − as a whole − and other relevant stakeholders as well. However, MOOCs in the Middle East are not likely to operate under a workable business model, at least not in the short run. As MOOCs rise to make more sense to students, their disruptive power would become more tangible. This, however, will take some time and will only be threatening if educational institutions become complacent in response to the novel ways by which the new generation is approaching learning.


Customised executive education, designed for and delivered to individual client companies by Higher Education Institutions (HEIs), differs in important ways from award-bearing courses. One area in which these differences are surprisingly extensive is in the use of technology. We explore the impact of technology-enhanced learning (TEL) on course design, delivery and evaluation of customised executive education. In doing so, we contrast this form of learning with MOOCs, which use TEL in a different way, for a different audience.

We begin with the ‘two-client’ problem. In customised executive programmes, course design is done collaboratively between the HEI and the corporate client, reflecting the particular learning needs of the selected participants as perceived by the commissioning client. We find that the level of TEL in any programme will reflect the learning needs, and also the level of TEL sophistication, of both client and academics.

We then consider the successful integration of TEL into customised executive education. TEL can enrich a course great, but will also mean a loss of academic control, as a significant amount of the learning will be peer-to-peer, and much of the information-gathering can take place outside the classroom.

We conclude with the outcomes and success measures of customised executive education. The institutional disruption of TEL to the HEI is considerable, as their traditional business model is based on rewarding academics for research and for classroom-hours. This needs to be rethought where the classroom element is reduced, but there is constant online interaction with participants.


Two of the most important trends in higher education have been the emergence of online learning and efforts to internationalise the curriculum and student body. While most universities embraced both these trends, insufficient attention has been paid to how the two approaches might be mutually supportive. Online education offers the opportunity to bring together students living in different countries in common courses and programmes, but cross-border enrolments remain low and new models and approaches are needed to build educational offerings that bring students and faculty from different countries together in sustained educational engagement online. This paper highlights a case study of an innovative blended double degree business masters’ program between Royal Roads University (RRU) in Canada and the Management Center Innsbruck (MCI) in Austria that allows mid-career, blended learning students to build international competencies and networks while continuing to work full-time. Through this double degree program, students can complete a Master of Global Management (MGM) at RRU and an MBA at MCI in approximately 24 months. Mid-career students have traditionally had limited opportunities to participate in an international education due to work and family constraints, but the pairing of two blended programmes creates an opportunity for these students to engage in a rich cross-cultural learning community. The paper highlights the challenges of integrating online learning into internationalisation strategies and explains how double degree programmes such as the RRU-MCI collaboration provide advantages that help overcome the challenges associated with online programmes that enrol students from different countries.

Part II Changing Classroom Dynamics in the Digital Teaching Space


In this chapter, we, the authors Bishop, Etmanski and Page, argue for the need to disrupt the traditional notion of faculty solely as expert. We redefine the online faculty role to be that of a facilitator who creates the space for students to engage with both content and other students in the class. We discuss the adult learning principles behind our practices and our attention to building community. To illustrate what our online teaching work looks like in practice, we begin by providing a creative script on what online learning could look like. We then speak to utilising the specific strategies of online forums, behind the scenes outreach, synchronous meetings and assignments to create rich engagement in the online environment for higher education and learning.

We place a strong emphasis on building community among our students from the start of course and throughout. Recognising that people respond differently to different scenarios and have different learning preferences, we seek to offer a diverse range of options for experiencing community, with the intention of offering the possibility of belonging for everyone. The intention to create space for engagement in online learning has challenged us to continually ask ourselves how we can adapt or create new activities and experiences for the online learning environment, so as to enhance engagement.


During the past decade, fast-paced changes created a new environment organisations need to adapt to in an agile way. To support their transformation, organisations are rethinking their approach to learning. They are moving away from traditional instructor-centred, standardised classroom-based learning settings. Instead, learning needs to be tailored to the individuals’ needs, available anywhere at any time and needs to enable learners to build their network. The development of digital tools, specifically network technology and social collaboration platforms, has enabled these new learning concepts.

The use of these new learning concepts in organisations also has implications for higher education. The present case study, therefore, investigates how universities can best prepare future employees and leaders for these new working environments, both on a content level and a methodological level. It also investigates if these new learning concepts can support universities in dealing with a changing environment.

The investigated case is a traditional face-to-face leadership lecture for a heterogeneous group of students. It was reconceptualised as a personalised and social collaborative learning setting, delivered through a social collaboration platform as the primary learning environment. Initial evaluation results indicate positive motivational effects, experience sharing and changes in perception of the student − lecturer relationship. The findings also supported previous challenges of computer-supported collaborative learning settings, such as the perception of a higher cognitive load. The implications of these results for the future teaching and business models of higher education are discussed. In addition, the potential of these computer-supported social collaborative learning settings is outlined.


As a result of the rapid technological innovation and its disruptive power also on the educational sector, teaching and learning practices changed fundamentally and new forms of education, as well as totally new degree programmes emerged. Today, higher education institutions (HEIs) make use of different online resources and new collaborative tools by integrating digital technologies and the internet fully within the curricula. However, although online education offers numerous advantages and has the power to overcome traditional barriers in education as time and space, many higher education institutions are still struggling with issues such as fostering student collaboration on one hand and reducing feelings of social isolation on the other. In the present case study, we analyse a blended Bachelor degree programme in Management at a European business school with the aim to provide practical suggestions and inspiration for implementing e-learning and online education in higher education. The introduced case demonstrates how collaborative learning aspects, organisational and pedagogical structures, philosophical assumptions and educational settings can be combined to decrease one of the main challenges in online education, namely distance.


The geosocial divide that separates many rural regions of Alaska continues to present considerable challenges, such as those that have long plagued the Yukon-Kuskokwim region with cultural and value conflicts. Lack of empirical data and improper identification of the root causes of the ongoing socio-political, cultural and economic disparities between rural Alaska and the rest of the country contribute to the general misconceptions of the turbulent nature of life on the tundra today. In this isolated region, the state has built dozens of schools that largely employ non-Natives. Teacher certification requirements have largely alienated Alaska Natives from pursuing careers in their home villages due to cost, lack of access, lack of student support and irrelevant curriculum. Despite rigorous standards and extraordinary funding opportunities, the current model has traditionally underperformed against both state and national norms.

This research targets a project that re-conceptualizes the teacher certification pipeline for remote Alaska Native villages via the utilisation of a competency-based bilingual curriculum, mentoring and interactive learning delivered via hybrid and online formats. The Native Teacher Certification Pathway proposed will be significant both in its local impact on unemployed adults and Yupik youth, and globally as a site for innovation in the application, delivery and assessment of evidence-based student support activities and programmes. Leveraging place, identity, language and values make learning incredibly powerful, increases efficacy and creates a true impact. Universities and business programmes that are sensitive to this fact and tailor their programmes appropriately will likely see a greater return on their investment.


While some may perceive technology as disruptive in higher education, this chapter makes a case that video technology can be used to increase collaboration and engagement in learning and teaching. It is argued that digital storytelling can be integrated as part of the assessment in graduate-level courses without compromising expectations related to academic rigor. Rather, digital storytelling advances multimedia literacy for the individual and supports the generation of bounded learning communities, specifically in online and blended programmes. Covering social presence, teaching presence and cognitive presence, the chapter draws on two examples of digital storytelling used in the MA in Conflict Analysis and Management and the MA in Global Leadership at Royal Roads University, Canada. Overall, the chapter makes a contribution to the conversation of how assessment formats can be updated to match the shift from traditional, lecture formats and brick-and-mortar institutions to applied, collaborative programmes that are often delivered in blended and online formats. Thus, as the field of higher education continues to evolve and adapt alongside technological innovations, the chapter suggests that digital storytelling can be one way to complement and update assessment formats to match the evolution of the twenty-first century.


Game-based learning or simulation-based learning – especially Serious Games – are notions of the contemporary discourse on digitalisation in the higher education sector in Germany. These methods offer a more vivid and motivating learning context and they help to improve important competencies for reaching work-related higher education goals. This explorative study focuses on experts’ experiences with digital and non-digital serious games and their contribution towards developing self, social and management competencies, in the Bundeswehr Command and Staff College in Hamburg (Germany). Whilst there are numerous opportunities for using serious games in higher education, their use creates barriers for addressing social, as well as leadership/management competencies. In the future, game-based learning – and more specifically, digital game-based learning – could challenge the relation between learning as hard work and learn for fun, and between explicit and goal-oriented learning and implicit, incidental and explorative learning.

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