Disrupting Education: Trends in Learning 2.0

The following is a guest post written by Josh Miramant. Josh is the Program Director for EverFi, Inc., an education technology startup. He currently live in New Orleans and describes himself as an avid philonoist, tech geek, entrepreneur, oenophile, student of code, mac user and coffee drinker. 

Learning Goes Virtual

Courses from the world’s best universities and colleges have arrived in New Orleans. They are available at a computer near you.

Last week, tenured Stanford Professor Sebastian Thrun announced that he was giving his up his position at the Ivy League Institution to launch Udacity, an online college platform providing his courses to the world. Motivated by the opportunty to extend the scope of his classroom his aims to make high-quality education accessible to an audience that could never fit within the walls of his Stanford lecture hall.

Is the internet the future of education? Photo by Wesley Fryer.

Thrun was first exposed to the potential of online learning through his class, “Introduction to Artificial Intelligence,” which was published for free to over 160,000 subscribers around the world. Thrun joins a growing number of non-profits, entrepreneurs and top education institutions looking  to harness the power of educating via the Internet.

In December, Massachusetts Institute of Technology announced M.I.T.x, an expansion of their free online course database. They are developing a platform that incorporates pre-recorded lectures with self-testing, community discussion boards, and interactive content.

Led by Provost L. Rafael Reif, M.I.T aims to create an open sourced platform that will evolve with the digital learner. The program, costing the institution millions of dollars, aims to study and refine the efficacy of e-learning. The Floating University, a similar online course platform created by Harvard, Yale, and Bard poses the question, “What if all the worlds best thinkers taught at one school and anyone could enroll?”

Entrepreneurs have not been sitting idly by. Apple has iTunes UniversityUdemy, a website aiming to crowdsource e-learning, has recently launched The Faculty Project. The Faculty Project is a partnership with leading universities including Duke, Stanford, Northwestern and others, to provide free courses in their most popular subjects. These examples are just the largest in a growing market. We are watching a trend become a standard.

So what is the motivation of these organizations? Why would prestigious institutions, some charging upwards of $40,000 per year, give away their commodities at no cost?

Disrupting Education

They are reacting to what they see as an inevitability. What started as an initiative of tech savvy teachers looking to provide comprehensive review materials has grow to be the expectation of Generation Y. On one side, these platforms are a powerful form of cause marketing. But with Ivy League enrollment making up only 3.9% of all students and with over 90% of applicants rejected, concern to fill their halls is not the primary motivation. These institutions are getting a head-start on their vision of what’s to come.

The momentum of this trend is a reflection of the pending disruption facing higher education, as seen by the educators.

Top institutions have lined up behind the trail blazed by Khan Academy. They are positioning to be the leaders in the emerging College 2.0. Thrun’s announcement was particularly important for two reasons:

  1. Motivations: When faced with the choice of a classroom with 200, or a platform available to students globally, he felt obligated to the latter. This will have resounding impact as new, digitally-proficient top-thinkers look to make an impact on education.
  2. Legitimacy: Thrun was a highly-respected, tenured professor teaching at an ivy league school. This speaks strongly to how a thoughtful leader in education views the future of the space.

There are many questions yet to be answered around the impact of these platforms. Will the education obtained grow to be credible in the workforce? Will online learning prove to be as effective as the classroom environment? Will free or low cost courses remain available as for-profit models emerge? Despite the big questions, the opportunities are vast.

This trend has also caused top education to become local. This has particular importance for the growing entrepreneurial climate in New Orleans and throughout Louisiana. The same education sources fueling Silicon Valley, Seattle and Austin are now available here, right at your fingertips.