New Study Asserts Online Education Can Revolutionize U.S. Workforce

Online competency-based learning models can disrupt traditional higher education

Business Wire


With higher-education debt swelling to a record $1.2 trillion, new emphasis is being placed not only on the cost of tuition but also on students’ ability to secure jobs upon graduation. Yet a recent Gallup Poll shows only 11 percent of business leaders believe graduates have the requisite skills for success in the workforce, leaving many of them under-employed or unemployed and unable to repay their student loans. Despite this trend, few universities or colleges have been able to adapt to the shifting demand for specialized workforce skills.

In the new study Hire Education: Mastery, Modularization, and the Workforce Revolution, Harvard Business School Professor Clayton M. Christensen and Dr. Michelle R. Weise, senior research fellow at the Clayton Christensen Institute, reveal the potential for online competency-based education to revolutionize the workforce and disrupt higher education. As traditional institutions remain fundamentally constrained in their response to evolving workforce demands, Hire Education predicts a growing need for brief, targeted, and affordable online competency-based models.

“No other existing form of higher education shows such promise in making the cost of a high-quality education affordable to more people,” said Weise. “We see great disruptive potential in rigorous online competency-based models that offer flexibility, affordability and faster completion times. As competency-based learning providers and employers collaborate, a separate and possibly even more powerful value network of industry-validated experiences could have the power to override the importance of college rankings and accreditation.”

Students seeking a different value proposition from higher education can look to online programs for tailored support and identifiable skillsets that are meaningful to their potential employers. According to Weise and Christensen, mastery of competencies via online technologies can displace the importance of place, time, and brand and level out the playing field by taking students to the furthest point possible in their learning experiences, regardless of their starting point, race, geographical location, or family income.

The full study can be found on the Christensen Institute website: Follow the conversation on Twitter at #HireEd and #competencybased.

The Clayton Christensen Institute for Disruptive Innovation ( is a nonprofit, nonpartisan think tank dedicated to improving the world through disruptive innovation. Founded on the theories of Harvard professor Clayton M. Christensen, the Institute offers a unique framework for understanding many of society’s most pressing problems.

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