“Frustrated that his (and fellow Googler Peter Norvig’s) Stanford artificial intelligence class only reached 200 students, they put up a website offering an online version. They got few takers. Then he mentioned the online course at a conference with 80 attendees and 80 people signed up. On a Friday, he sent an offer to the mailing list of a top AI association. On Saturday morning he had 3,000 sign-ups—by Monday morning, 14,000. In the midst of this, there was a slight hitch, Mr. Thrun says. “I had forgotten to tell Stanford about it. There was my authority problem. Stanford said ‘If you give the same exams and the same certificate of completion [as Stanford does], then you are really messing with what certificates really are. People are going to go out with the certificates and ask for admission [at the university] and how do we even know who they really are?’ And I said: I. Don’t. Care.”
Of course, such “remote learning” is not quite as new as it might appear: even the Open University system in the UK has been going for more than 40 years. But the internet and related technologies are accelerating developments in this vein. Given all the issues surrounding the need to cut the cost of the public sector and improve standards and teaching, anything that can drive change in a better direction is a good thing. I wish this “education entrepreneur” well. If the best minds in Silicon Valley – and elsewhere – get involved, then this is one of those developments that will be arguably more significant than any amount of public service tinkering that usually makes more noise in the news.
Of course, his supreme blog highness, Instapundit’s Glenn Reynolds, has been pushing the whole theme of there being a higher education “bubble” for some time, but being the kind of person he is, does not just complain. He likes to pounce on examples of how to move education in a saner direction.