In August 2011, Stanford University computer science professor Sebastian Thrun partnered with a group of colleagues and made a decision that would rock the learning fraternity. They decided to open their class to the world allowing anyone, anywhere to attend their course for free. There were no pre-requisites; they had tutorials, exams, and a final assessment. The announcement was made with a single email to a professional group. It was amplified on twitter and within hours 5,000 students signed up. Eventually, over 150,000 students enrolled in an online version of Stanford’s Introduction to Artificial Intelligence.
This profoundly disruptive model was such a hit that it is now being replicated by other professors at Stanford. MIT have also embraced the model, offering its own series of online courses. In fact, as of last month, there were 400 free online courses from all the top universities across all faculties. Even more profound is the fact that Thrun has now left Stanford behind, to start up Udacity, a free online university. In his words, ‘we are entering a brave new world’, and he is not wrong.
TRADITION IS A BALL & CHAIN TO PROGRESS
Online education and distance learning is nothing new, but the technology has reached an inflection point, radically transforming content, social learning, and accreditation all at once. This challenges the age-old university model born into an era of paper, as a passive, hierarchical and didactic process where the lecture was the most effective and the only way to convey information. These models no longer apply, weighing down and interfering with new learning opportunities. In some cases learning institutions have not responded, almost ignoring any technological change. Furthermore, virtually everything in a university lecturer’s life revolves around publication, peer review and institutional authority. The reality of who makes knowledge, how it is authored and legitimised, is no longer the realm of universities.
This challenges the old model based on paper as a passive, and didactic process where the lecture was the most effective way.
ENTER OPEN SOURCED LEARNING
Today we have technologies that enable and encourage learning as a networked, interactive and collaborative process. This facilitates an almost instantaneous exchange of ideas, ignoring any natural barriers. Students can access video lectures stored online, according to their schedules, anywhere in the world. Embedded quizzes let students monitor their own progress and give lecturers richer data to improve their teaching methods.
Social media has also assisted by revolutionising the conversation into a collaborative learning approach. It offers a forum to question, correct and be corrected. It facilitates a vision of cooperation, interactivity, and mutuality for a common productivity. It’s the power of 10 working as one.
Furthermore, over 80% of learning is informal. Discovering online possibilities is a skill that is developed at an early age. Even the simple task of reading follows a more peripatetic path; interactive, nonlinear engaging and often rewarding paths lead us, the reader, to serendipitous discovery.
Perhaps the biggest trend on a social level is that learning is now life-long. Our rapidly changing world necessitates the need to continually acquire new skills and knowledge, thus embracing the concept of adaptability.
This networked, on-demand and free approach to learning approach is set to revolutionise the concept of education and its delivery. It is now possible to teach classes with 100,000 students as effectively and as cheaply as a class with just 100. It will offer an equal level of education to anyone anywhere regardless of socioeconomic status as long as they can access the internet.