Online Teacher Education a “Disruptive Innovation” that Delivers Quality at Lower Cost

Meredith Liu Innosight Institute
Janice B. Riddell (203) 912-8675, External Relations, Education Next

Online Teacher Education a “Disruptive Innovation” that Delivers Quality at Lower Cost

Programs open doors to teaching for talented candidates who need alternatives to campus-based model

CAMBRIDGE, MA—A new analysis examines two online programs in teacher preparation, one at the University of Southern California’s Rossier School of Education (MAT@USC) and the other at Western Governors University’s Teachers College (WGU).  Author Meredith Liu writes that in contrast to sustaining innovations, by which education schools might add some new faculty or online course offerings but not change their brick-and-mortar model, fully-online degree programs offer the potential to “transform the industry into one that has lower costs and higher quality, and is more widely accessible.”  “Disrupting Teacher Education” will appear in the Summer 2013 issue of Education Next and is now available online at

Teacher education programs operate under the traditional university business model, Liu observes, by which education schools are viewed as “cash cows” that are expected to generate more revenue than they require.  This inhibits large-scale innovation in areas such as digital learning.  Some of the key features of the pioneering MAT@USC and WGU programs include:

• Course content is offered over the Internet, delivered via interactive, web-based lectures and discussion sessions among students and their professors.  MAT@USC uses an advanced cloud-computing platform developed and managed by 2U, an online learning company.

• In-classroom student teaching (20 weeks) is required, arranged through cooperative agreements with school districts in degree candidates’ local areas.

• Graduates are certified first in each university’s home state (USC-California and WGU-Utah) and can apply their teaching licenses to many other states through reciprocal agreements (subject to particular state statutes which might require short-term courses).

• The programs are attracting large numbers of non-traditional students.  70 percent of WGU’s students, for example, come from geographically diverse populations, including rural areas, and 36 is the average student age.  Students who work can keep their regular jobs, saving opportunity-costs.  Graduates are well received in the profession;  in a survey of employers of WGU graduates, for example, 100 percent of respondents believe the program prepared graduates equal to or better than other schools of education.

• USC’s program offers a master’s degree with a teacher licensing option (for students who already have bachelor’s degrees but not teaching certification) or a master’s for in-service teachers (who wish to gain a salary boost);  it does not offer a B.A. degree program which combines, for example, a major in math with teaching certification.  WGU offers both a baccalaureate and a master’s degree program.

• MAT@USC offers traditional credit-hour courses, but at WGU, courses are competency-based, allowing students to prove that they have mastered content through a combination of tests, portfolios, and observations.  The average WGU student completes the bachelor’s degree in two and one-half years.

• The USC program costs $40,000 for its 13-month master’s degree, whereas WGU charges a flat rate of $2,890 for each 6-month term, during which students can take as many courses as they want.

Both of these programs, Liu observes, point toward a future where a broader range of talent is welcomed into the teaching field and professional preparation is improved, which would be “welcome news for the nation’s students.”

About the Author

Meredith Liu is a visiting fellow at Innosight Institute.  She is available for interviews.

About Education Next

Education Next is a scholarly journal published by the Hoover Institution that is committed to careful examination of evidence relating to school reform.  Other collaborating institutions are the Program on Education Policy and Governance at Harvard University, part of the Taubman Center for State and Local Government at the Harvard Kennedy School, and the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation.  For more information about Education Next, please visit:

For more information on the Program on Education Policy and Governance contact Antonio Wendland at 617-495-7976,, or visit

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