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Can Technology Make Student Debt A Thing of the Past?

One of my favorite stories from Techonomy was Bill Gates' recounting of how New York City in 1900 was overrun with horse manure. It seemed like an unsurmountable problem. But then the invention of the automobile made the problem literally disappear.

There is a lot of to-and-fro these days about student debt. But what if student debt could be the horse manure of our time? A problem that could be disappeared by disruptive technology? While the automobile was a disruptive technology in the 20th century, online learning a disruptive technology in the 21st century.

Clay Christensen, the Harvard Business School professor who developed the idea of disruptive innovation (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Disruptive_technology), has said

"Computer-based learning is an exciting disruption because it allows anyone to access a consistent quality learning experience; it is convenient since someone can take it virtually anywhere at any time; it allows a student to move through the material at any pace; it can customize for a student's preferred learning style; and it is more affordable than the current school system."

Bill Gates made a similar observation in the closing session of Techonomy. As TechCrunch reported (http://techcrunch.com/2010/08/06/bill-gates-education/),

"Gates thinks the idea of young adults having to go to universities in order to get an education is going to go away relatively soon. Well, provided they’re self-motivated learners. ... It’s just too expensive and too hard to get these upper-level educations."

I was very fortunate that affordability did not affect my access to education. But I know many people for whom this is not the case. They either fail to get the education they desire, or struggle to make the payments on their student debt. I am hopeful that technology and online learning may turn student debt into the horse manure of our time.

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