Open University has attracted more than 1m active subscribers to its courses available on Apple‘s iTunes U app for iPad in less than three months since its launch.

OU says its 52 courses have generated more than 50m downloads globally through the app, and are currently running at more than 40,000 new ones a day.

At what point will online degrees and course work from programs like Open University and Stanford and MIT replace a college diploma for some subset of the population? 5 years? 10 years? Would you hire an engineer who had learned to code entirely from online videos or StackOverflow?

These figures will inexorably increase. As a society, we’re beginning to question the value of certain kinds of education and weighing the cost benefit more carefully than ten years ago. As tax revenues decline,  I expect many community colleges and state schools whose budgets have been cut to migrate online as a way of meeting their education mandate on lower tax revenues.  Of course, professors must adapt: seeking greater wealth, the best professors, will move online to service many more students, much like they have on Megastudy in Korea where some earn salaries in the millions. As a result, more students will be exposed to a higher quality of education than they might have received at a local college, for a fraction of the cost.

The harder challenge for online education is effecting cultural change: it’s the acceptance of online education as an equivalent of an offline education. Today the equivalency challenge is solved through scale.  A good analogy is the University of Phoenix which now has a class size nearing 400,000 people. With more than 1M former students in the working world, UoP has one of the largest university alumni networks, which makes finding a job that much easier. This scale breeds familiarity and trust.

With 1M people enrolled in Open University in just three months, the tide is swelling.