Higher Ed Canary in the Coal Mine? Stanford Prof Bails to Teach 500,000 Online

With all the news of MITx Certificates and according to a tweet I saw, 67,000 people registered for Steven G Blank’s online Lean Launchpad class, its pretty clear that on campus degree programs are going to lose education market share.

From Thiel and DIY Edu to online badges, things are changing. Incredible news out of Palo Alto that a leading artificial intelligence academic is leaving campus. From Nick DeSantis at Wired Campus:

The Stanford University professor who taught an online artificial intelligence course to more than 160,000 students has abandoned his position to aim for an even bigger audience.

Sebastian Thrun, a research professor of computer science at Stanford, revealed today that he has departed the institution to found Udacity, a start-up offering low-cost online classes. He made the surprising announcement during a presentation at the Digital – Life – Design conference in Munich, Germany. The development was first reported earlier today by Reuters.

During his talk, Mr. Thrun explored the origins of his popular online course at Stanford, which initially featured videos produced with nothing more than “a camera, a pen and a napkin.” Despite the low production quality, many of the 200 Stanford students taking the course in the classroom flocked to the videos because they could absorb the lectures at their own pace. Eventually, the 200 students taking the course in person dwindled to a group of 30. Meanwhile, the course’s popularity exploded online, drawing students from around the world. The experience taught the professor that he could craft a course with the interactive tools of the Web that recreated the intimacy of one-on-one tutoring, he said.

The article is worth reading and my favorite part is at the end,

“I feel like there’s a red pill and a blue pill,” he said. “And you can take the blue pill and go back to your classroom and lecture your 20 students. But I’ve taken the red pill, and I’ve seen Wonderland.”

I wish more in academics wanted to see Wonderland (or were even aware that it existed). I am continuing to experiment with various new methods of delivery and reaching out to those beyond the confines of my courses (StartUp Mason is one such initiative).

All that said, Thrun is not the first to leave a university for an online startup (some of my University of Chicago Professors did it during the first internet bubble — though I can’t remember the name of their firm — it failed).

via Professor Departs Stanford U., Hoping to Teach 500,000 Students at Online Start-Up – Wired Campus – The Chronicle of Higher Education.

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