Last year I wrote that Sebastian Thrun is the most dangerous man in Higher Education. He was launching a web site called Udacity. Well, turns out it didn’t achieve the results of disrupting higher education so he’s changing targets.
He has abandoned the goal of bringing conventional college courses to low performing students in developed and developing countries, and pivoted toward vocational education.
The switch was motivated by the poor results of San Jose State University students who used Udacity material rather than conventional textbooks in “flipped” classrooms. The results left Thrun dissilusioned — “I’d aspired to give people a profound education–to teach them something substantial, but the data was at odds with this idea.”
So what does this mean? Is this proof that the traditional university model is the only one that will work? Does nothing change? Hardly. Here’s what this means.
- Udacity is going to offer vocational training for life. There are a whole lot of people who would take advantage of this simply because not everyone is cut out for college. The focus on college over the last few decades has resulted in a generation that has a degree but no job, just massive amounts of debt.
- MOOCs don’t have to replace college in order to disrupt it. As costs continue to climb, colleges are going to lose students to cheaper alternatives. Many colleges are depending on a steadily increasing income stream and will be in bad shape if that is truncated. MOOCs can do that.
- What you are seeing is the natural start of a disruptive innovation. It tends to start on the edges of an industry or market. Colleges don’t tend to serve vocational needs and also don’t care about life long learning. I’ve written about this too. Once MOOCs develop new teaching technologies in vocational schools, they can start to make their way back into traditional education too.
So no, MOOCs aren’t going to destroy Higher Education. They can however, hurt it and force it into a position to adapt to changing circumstances.
One last quote from Mr. Thrun.
When speaking of his five-year old son, Thrun reveals his vision of the future of education, saying “I hope he can hit the workforce relatively early and engage in lifelong education — I wish to do away with the idea of spending one big chunk of time learning.”
He’s doing this with his son in mind. As a new father myself, I can testify that that is a very strong motivation.