Massive online learning and the unbundling of undergraduate education

Is free online learning going to put traditional colleges out of business? For a college professor, it’s hard to read the news these days and not worry about this threat. For one thing, the businesses of journalism, publishing and music, all decimated by the internet, bear uncomfortable similarity to that of higher education. In each case, valuable intellectual property is threatened by free online copying and distribution. For another, the industries of health care, higher education and (formerly) housing all share another uncomfortable similarity: in an era of stagnant household incomes, their costs are inexorably rising, leading to ever-increasing indebtedness. Simple arithmetic…