July 5, 2012
"College is a place where a professor’s lecture notes go straight to the students’ lecture notes, without passing through the brains of either."

— So said Mark Twain, quoted by Daphne Koller in her TEDGlobal talk outlining the success-to-date of online learning system, Coursera. The Stanford professor has certainly seen some serious uptake of the courses (to date 640,000 students from 190 countries have viewed 14 million videos and taken 6 million quizzes.) Of course, there’s a lot to be said about the business model of colleges that currently give professors the leeway to share intellectual insights developed on university time—but which might think differently if enrollments drop. That likely won’t be a problem for the top tier of universities such as Stanford, Princeton or the other universities currently experimenting with Coursera. After all, one only has to think about TED itself, with the phenomenally successful TEDx program driving interest in the two main conferences themselves; or the freely distributed TEDTalks doing the same.) But I do wonder how the model might play out with other, less Ivy Leagueish colleges, which put bluntly might not survive this upending of the system. Everyone’s talking about disruption in the higher education space. This is certainly a robust opening salvo.

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