Anyone who’s taken a college course in the last decade has realized it: you can get the same quality of education online that you get in a classroom. It’s taken time for the technology—and the students—to evolve to a level where online education is really on par with traditional universities and colleges, but we’ve reached a critical mass, and it’s changed everything forever.

All Courses are Now Online to a Degree

Even if you’re not attending live college classes online or doing homework through some online portal, you’re still using the Web for research, communication with classmates and instructors, and interacting with nearly all of your college’s or university’s other services through their website.

Online resources are now seen as a cost-saving measure. For instance, a friend of mine recently took a Calculus class in which all his homework was done through an automated online system; his teacher didn’t have to grade a single assignment, which freed him up to teach an additional class.

To Online Universities, Distance is Meaningless

A lot of traditional colleges and universities are still requiring students to be physically “tethered” to the classroom, even if most of the class material is available online and lectures could also be made available that way. The assumption is that there’s something about being in the classroom that makes for better interaction and superior learning.

But a tethered environment effectively eliminates the “learn anywhere” advantage of online education. But the reality of today’s higher learning landscape is that more and more students need that advantage to get through school at all; without it, they’re functionally unable to access college courses due to work schedules or distance. In fact, some of the fastest growing markets for online colleges in the US are overseas, in Asia and South America. The Internet makes large distances meaningless.

Strayer has been way ahead on this front, offering both completely online and on-campus courses for students to choose from. And the data backs us up: a Colorado study recently found no difference in outcomes between online courses and in-classroom learning. The focus now is not on place; it’s entirely about educational quality.

Traditional Colleges are Finally Getting Onboard

The largest higher education system in the nation, California’s, along with Governor Jerry Brown, see the writing on the wall when it comes to the costs of the traditional university model, and they’re doing something about it. Students in the public university system are going to see more fully online courses soon.

This isn’t just some old-guard schools deciding to add low-level courses to their online offerings; we’re seeing a momentous shift in the fundamental structure of higher education, and the establishment can’t help but respond due to the financial pressures they’re under.

Amid this institutional transformation, we’re finally starting to grapple with the meaty implications of a fully online world when it comes to education. How do we prevent cheating? How can online environments enable customized instruction to individual students? How can we scale online courses to be available to large populations of students? None of these questions has an easy answer, but the disruption of traditional higher education through technological innovation has made distance learning the sandbox in which the world is trying out new ideas.

The next few years will be formative for the next decade of education and career training. Where do you think it will go? Will online education be able to make a difference in the cost and quality of learning that people are able to experience? What are the differences between online courses you’ve been in and a regular classroom?