Online Learning Update

November 20, 2013

Udacity’s Sebastian Thrun, Godfather of Free Online Education, Changes Course

Filed under: Online Learning News — Ray Schroeder @ 12:12 am

by Max Chafkin, Fast Company

[ed note: This article is getting wide play among those who wish MOOCs would go away. It is a wide-ranging article that is worth reading in its entirety. I, for one, do not believe that MOOCs are gone forever, instead they continue to evolve, I believe those who underestimate this mode of delivery do so at their peril.}

It’s hard to imagine a story that more thoroughly flatters the current sensibilities of Silicon Valley than the one into which Thrun stumbled. Not only is reinventing the university a worthy goal–tuition prices at both public and private colleges have soared in recent years, and the debt burden borne by American students is more than $1 trillion–but it’s hard to imagine an industry more ripe for disruption than one in which the professionals literally still don medieval robes. “Education hasn’t changed for 1,000 years,” says Peter Levine, a partner with Andreessen Horowitz and a Udacity board member, summing up the Valley’s conventional wisdom on the topic. “Udacity just seemed like a fundamentally new way to change how communities of people are educated.” But for Thrun, who had been wrestling over who Udacity’s ideal students should be, the results were not a failure; they were clarifying. “We were initially torn between collaborating with universities and working outside the world of college,” Thrun tells me. The San Jose State pilot offered the answer. “These were students from difficult neighborhoods, without good access to computers, and with all kinds of challenges in their lives,” he says. “It’s a group for which this medium is not a good fit.”

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