Not really a new idea…

Sebastian ThrunI was curious about the flurry of media reports on the change in Sebastian Thrun’s decision to charge for tutoring and certification for his free online courses in Udacity. Why is this news?

Udacity logoMany years before his supposedly audacious goal to create Udacity as a platform that provided free learning to the masses, open education initiatives in countries like New Zealand would provide “value-added” options that required you to pay so that you could receive certification. Europe’s just completed a two year feasibility test of whether open educational resources courses could be assessed and certified by higher education institutions (see OERtest site) It is not a new topic.

“Free education” has never been totally free; either you had to be able to find a potential employer you could demonstrate your learning for or you had to pay someone to assess your learning and provide you with a certificate.

It seems a logical move for Thrun since his vision never included reaching out to those who couldn’t pay anything…so I’m not sure why this change merits media coverage. Seems as though this isn’t a story really so how come he gets free advertising? He must have a savvy communication manager.

Well, when I started actually reading each story that floated across my screen, I realized that the reporting seemed to be from three sources: Betsy Corcoran, Max Chafkin and Rebecca Schuman. The majority of the coverage, and the most venomous, is from Rebecca Schuman, who seems to have taken on the mantle of the protector of misunderstood students. It’s not their fault that they couldn’t complete Udacity courses; it is the fault of the MOOC-structure of online learning. While I don’t think she’s entirely wrong, I think the reasons that students fail these large, online courses is more complex than that.

I wrote about the debacle of the much-hyped partnership between San Jose University and Udacity to provide three first year courses to under-served student populations – see…urse-offerings/

It seems as though the big educational institutions are playing with the MOOC model to see what can make it successful. Some target students who can’t afford to attend big name universities; others seem to use MOOCs to draw in the elite students.  The multiplicity of underlying objectives and agendas makes it even harder to get a clear picture of the potential future value of MOOCs for learning.

Media coverage:

The King of MOOCs Abdicates the Throne, Rebecca Schuman, Slate, November 19, 2013

A founder of online learning changes course, Rebecca Schuman, Miami Herald, November 19, 2013

Back to the Blackboard for Online Courses, Rebecca Schuman, Winnipeg Free Press, November 20, 2013

A founder of online learning changes course, Rebecca Schuman, Bradenton Herald, November 20, 2013

Udacity’s UTurn, Betsy Corcoran, EdSurge News, November 14, 2013

Udacity’s Sebastian Thrun, Godfather of Free Online Education, Changes Course, Max Chafkin, Fast Company, November 14, 2013


About Cloudsyl

Now a mid-Island observer of the Cloud
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