Early Stages of Disrupting Higher Ed

On my morning run today I had a chance to listen to this recent KQED Forum session with Sebastian Thrun (Udacity), Sal Khan (Khan Academy) and Anant Agarawal (MITx) sharing their thoughts and contributions to online learning.

The conversation opened with Ben Nelson sharing his plans for the Minerva Project, to offer an elite level university education fully online. He recently raised $25M in seed funding to address the issue that the demand for an ivy league style education vastly outstrips the supply and I wish he would’ve shared more of his perspective since he plans to charge students while the other 3 panelists offer their services for free.

It was an interesting discussion where the panelists clearly acknowledged that while their online courses have made a significant impact we are just in the beginning stages of figuring out the best way to deliver and measure online learning where the role of community and 1:1 interaction is still vitally important. In response to how the cost of a higher ed degree is rapidly increasing while its value as a signal of quality and ability to provide job security is decreasing, I appreciated Sal’s comment that we must deconstruct the key aspects of college: learning, credentialing and socializing in order to control quality and costs. There is huge value in each and we must optimize the delivery methods accordingly. Sebastian and Anant shared some valuable examples of how their students have organized both physical and virtual communities to support each other’s learning and how these new models for study groups reflect the teamwork and collaboration we should expect to see more of in the future workforce.

I am so pleased to see conversations like this taking place that go beyond simply bringing content online and are addressing the more complex issue of how to facilitate learning, maintain student engagement and foster community and peer interactions in an online environment. While the discussion was focused on higher education I think, as Khan Academy has demonstrated, this work has broader implications for learning at all levels.

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