(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)
You thought I was crazy back in 2009 when I predicted that we would see free, high quality university training made available online. I thought I might be crazy too, and for the record it hasn’t happened (quite) yet.
Inspired by Khan Academy, two Stanford professors however just put a graduate level Computer Science course online, complete with reading assignments, tests and a “Certificate of Completion.” Wired Magazine reports that a mere 200,000 students from around the world took the course.
The good professors decided to form a company, called Udasity, to pursue online higher education. Money quote from the article:
He’s thinking big now. He imagines that in 10 years, job applicants will tout their Udacity degrees. In 50 years, he says, there will be only 10 institutions in the world delivering higher education and Udacity has a shot at being one of them. Thrun just has to plot the right course.
Personally I don’t believe there will only be 10 institutions delivering higher education in 2062. I think the demand for in-person instruction will be considerably stronger than that. Having just visited the Stanford campus a few weeks ago, I dare to wager that there will always be a Stanford.
I do however believe that by 2062 we will see far fewer universities than we have today. The technology exists to put high quality undergraduate and graduate level courses online and make them available for free or next to free. Stanford and MIT have been moving in this direction, and if they don’t close the deal eventually someone else will do so.
Universities have been increasing their costs at a rate exceeding health care inflation for decades. The pink cloud of academic euphoria is going to meet the cold howling wind of creative destruction, and that includes the current stock of for-profit online providers. Once Stanford or MIT or Oxford starts putting degree programs online for little to no cost to the student, many dominoes will begin to fall.
Far more important than the incumbent interests of the status-quo is the remarkable benefit that this trend with have for human progress. Making world-class graduate level training available to subsistence farmers in Bangladesh will change the world for the better, regardless of whether it forces changes in business models for online companies and/or puts painfully mediocre and expensive universities out of business.
The Amazon first mover advantage for a serious brand name to move into the free-for-user higher education space with a Google funding model is out there, waiting for someone to seize it and make history. Cry Havoc and let slip the dogs of war!