The education sector is already becoming disruptive in the sense that everything has changed. People (students) no longer wants to spend four to five years behind the wall of a school when they can do the same course online and get quality education at a cheaper cost.

Higher education in Nigeria and all over the world is already feeling the impact of online learning and very few of them are already changing their business model to remain relevant in this disruptive system.

Over the years—indeed, over more than 100 years—new kinds of institutions with different initial charters have been created to address the needs of various population segments, including non-consumers. Land-grant universities, teachers’ colleges, two-year colleges, and so on were initially launched to serve those for whom a traditional four-year liberal arts education was out of reach or unnecessary. Many of these new entrants strived to improve over time, compelled by analogues of the pursuit of profitability: a desire for growth, prestige, and the capacity to do greater good. Thus they made costly investments in research, dormitories, athletic facilities, faculty, and so on, seeking to emulate more-elite institutions. Doing so has increased their level of performance in some ways—they can provide richer learning and living environments for students, for example. Yet the relative standing of higher-education institutions remains largely unchanged: With few exceptions, the top 20 are still the top 20, and the next 50 are still in that second tier, decades after decades.

Because both incumbents and newcomers are seemingly following the same game plan, it is perhaps no surprise that incumbents are able to maintain their positions. What has been missing—until recently—is experimentation with new models that successfully appeal to today’s non-consumers of higher education. In other words, those who are not ready to go and spend years behind the school walls.

The question now is whether there is a novel technology or business model that allows new entrants to move upmarket without emulating the incumbents’ high costs—that is, to follow a disruptive path. The answer seems to be yes, and the enabling innovation is online learning, which is becoming broadly available globally. Real tuition for online courses is falling, and accessibility and quality are improving. Innovators are making inroads into the mainstream market at a stunning pace.

Will online education disrupt the incumbents’ model? And if so, when? In other words, will online education’s trajectory of improvement intersect with the needs of the mainstream market?

These questions and many more can only be answered with time provided new entrants continue with the trajectory improvement and the incumbents can no longer continue with their business.

Ebenezer Dare

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