As the internet has been developing over the last few decades, so has the idea of online learning. Now it seems everywhere you look there are advertisements of online programs. In general when you think about online education, programs like University of Phoenix, or Education Connection come up. But recently more prestigious names have also began offering online only programs as well.
There is a New York Times article today that described Harvard and MIT partnering on a program called edX where both institutions will commit $30 million to offer a program that will offer students a chance to receive a Certificate of Mastery and a grade, however, the program will carry no official credit. Stanford, Princeton, U-Penn, and Michigan are also in process to develop similar programs and the University of Northern Carolina Keenan Flagler Business School recently developed an entire MBA program online.
Although there is generally still some negative stigma that goes along with online learning, it seems that it has become more accepted and mainstream. As I have been progressing through the CFA program, which is technically "online" (as I use ebooks and the Schweser online videos and q-bank), I strongly believe that I have learned more about the different aspects of finance through learning at my own pace online then I did by going through a formal finance program while pursuing my undergrad degree, not to mention more cost effective.
It used to be that to develop an advanced understanding of any subject matter, one would have to attend some sort of a program through an accredited university. Now anyone with a good sense of self-discipline and desire can log on to online schools like the Khan Academy and learn anything from a history lesson on Michelangelo's Pieta to using the Laplace Transform to solving a non-homogenous equation, and guess what? its free.
Although Khan Academy was relatively unknown to most until they had a profile done on 60 Minutes , Khan and similar programs are still difficult to put on a resume (even though you still obtain the knowledge). This is where the MIT, Harvard, etc. brand names come into play. You can take one of these online courses and put on your resume that you studied and received a certificate from a prestigious brand name institution.
Physically attending schools will probably never be replaced as people in all industries have a need to network, build leadership and team-working skills and of course have access to streamlined organized recruiting, but we are seeing education transform right before our eyes. It will be interesting to see how edX and other Ivy sponsored programs fare over the next 5-10 years.