What happens when a product becomes so expensive to buy
that only the favored few can afford it?
What if that too-expensive product also
requires an enormous outlay
of time and effort to even get to its distribution point?
And, what if after all that expense and effort,
the product itself doesn't do the job?
It doesn't take a genius to figure out that something is drastically wrong with our higher education system. But it does take a genius to figure out a better way to deliver a cheap, effective process that allows open minds around the world to gain the knowledge they need to grapple with today's extremely complex problems. Enter Sebastian Thrun ... Stanford professor, disrupter par excellence, inventor/champion of self-driven cars, Google fellow and developer of Udacity, where 23,000 students recently finished a course in artificial intelligence taught by Thrun and Google research chief Peter Norvig.
Thrun believes that the very concept of degrees may evaporate as the idea of education as a "package" is replaced by a need for continuous learning. Thrun's Udacity isn't the only online learning venture addressing this issue but all of the others are connected to major universities ... a help and a hindrance.
Students want the credibility that comes from doing work under the auspices of a name-brand university and top professors. But those universities have a lot of bricks and mortar to defend ... will they be able to see these new ventures as a natural evolution ... or will they water down the online offerings in order to protect the expensive tuition-based programs already in place?
If the experience of other industries holds, chances are the future of education is more likely in the hands of people like Thrun than in our heritage institutions such as Harvard. It will be interesting to watch.