Why MOOCs May Still Be Silicon Valley’s Next Grand Challenge

18 Nov

Dr. Keith Devlin
Mathematician, Stanford University

The recent announcement from Sebastian Thrun, founder of MOOC provider Udacity, that he is abandoning his original “teach the world” educational vision and concentrating on corporate training, has been seen by many as marking the beginning of the end of what just a year was being touted as a major revolution in higher education that would disrupt the status quo and lead to many colleges and universities going out of business.

But as Hack Education’s Audrey Watters commented, those conclusions and predictions miss the point that, from the start, Udacity was a very different player in the online education space from the other initiatives coming out of Stanford and MIT.

Udacity’s focus, and business model, were always directed at (and around) computer science education, a very special, atypical case. Those of us that also got into the MOOC act in the early days, and many who have entered the space since then, came in with very different goals and expectations – and very definitely without a business model.

Thrun created Udacity as a for profit company, funded by Silicon Valley venture capitalists, and is now following a well-trodden path that has led many Valley startups to become successful companies with global reach. From a business perspective, it does not matter that the original plan or product was flawed. In any startup, it almost always is. It’s what you do next that matters.

Venture capitalists, like many successful technology entrepreneurs, have a habit of badly misunderstanding education, but it is equally easy to misunderstand what they do. Which is basically to bet on people. As VC Peter Levine, a partner with Andreessen Horowitz and a Udacity board member, says of the $15 million investment in Udacity he led in October 2012, “If it hadn’t been for Sebastian, we wouldn’t have done this investment.” (Ref: first link above.)

[ Full article available at the The Huffington Post: ]

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Posted by on November 18, 2013 in MOOCs in the News


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