The Digital Transformation of Education

Innovation and Economic Growth

Article Snapshot


Jack M. Balkin and Julia Sonnevend


in Education and Social Media: Toward a Digital Future, C. Greenhow, J. Sonnevend, and C. Agur, eds., Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2016, pp. 9-25


Education is in the early stages of a transformation brought on by technology. Traditional schools will not vanish overnight, but will face growing competition from new models of education, including informal and peer-to-peer education, and for-profit education.

Policy Relevance

Digital technology will cause us to entirely rethink our ideas of education.

Main Points

  • Traditional education is a “broadcast” model; communication flows from one to many; digital networks will offer many alternatives to this model.
  • With digital networks, geography and spatial constraints no longer apply; a teacher can reach an unlimited number of students, and the students can be located anywhere in the world.
  • With digital networks, students will have less direct contact with teachers and other students; not all forms of learning will be suited to such a model.
  • Social networks like Facebook, YouTube, and gaming platforms facilitate peer-to-peer education, a many-to-many model of education.
  • Teachers who lecture on certain subjects will face international competition from other teachers who lecture on the same subjects, and a few schools could capture a large share of the market.
  • Access to digital education will be limited by differences in languages; the desire for access to digital education could strengthen the dominance of English, Chinese, Arabic, or Spanish.
  • Controversy over the regulation and accreditation of online education is likely.
    • Online education might conflict with local educational goals or quality standards.
    • Online education providers compete with traditional providers.
  • People have always learned from their peers and through informal institutions; however, informal digital education will be affected by intermediaries like Google or Facebook.


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