Teach Yourself 2.0 or How Education Just Became Exciting (Again)


I was fascinated to learn yesterday that back in July Google ran an online training course called ‘Power Searching with Google‘. Not that there is anything new in running online courses but this was one was unusual for a couple of reasons. First of all it had 155,000 students which is large by any measure. Secondly the course itself announced an open source effort to develop a platform for to create a new generation of online courses. The aim is to start a world of online education like we haven’t seen before.

From posted yesterday: "We are excited that Stanford University, Indiana University, UC San Diego,,, Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne (EPFL), and a group of universities in Spain led by Universia, CRUE, and Banco Santander-Universidades are considering how this experimental technology might work for some of their online courses. Sebastian Thrun at Udacity welcomes this new option for instructors who would like to create an online class, while Daphne Koller at Coursera notes that the educational landscape is changing and it is exciting to see new avenues for teaching and learning emerge."

The concept of ‘teach-yourself’ has been around since The Open University was given a Royal Charter in Great Britain in 1969. As a child I can recall being very cross when they aired lectures on TV during the day when I wanted to watch Play School instead. Today home university courses are 10-a-penny. Here in the USA the University of Phoenix advertises ‘earn an online degree from an online college‘. But, if I have understood Google’s news correctly, they have a much larger vision.

Udacity co-founder Professor Sebastian Thrun, left, and course manager Andy Brown
Udacity co-founder Professor Sebastian Thrun, left, and course manager Andy Brown

In January a widely respected Professor who taught at Stanford University Sebastian Thrun left and started up a new business called Udacity. From their webpage: "Udacity is a totally new kind of learning experience. You learn by solving challenging problems and pursuing udacious projects with world-renowned university instructors (not by watching long, boring lectures)". Thrun was inspired by being able to teach 1000’s at a time instead of 20 in a class room and by the reaction of the students to high quality online video and interactive internet lessons.

This is far different to a home teaching course based on radio button style click-a-thons and email based homework attachment submissions. This is a new educational world where the quality of the material is second to none, but the course can be taken a pace to suit the student.

Now Google wants to get behind it by leading the charge to make a platform that will enable more companies and educators like Thrun to get started. This platform will presumably provide a structure for video streaming lessons live or recorded to multiple locations and large numbers of people. (YouTube does this for prerecorded material but not live) I also guess it will cater for interactivity so that students can also ask questions and participate, etc.

This is very exciting to me. I loathed school. Its petty rules, its bored and boring teachers. Its formulaic response to everything. If it wasn’t for a wonderful math teacher called Paul Graham I would never have made it to College. But if I had the chance to be taught online like this I would have jumped at it. I will go further, if someone comes up with a generation 2.0 teach yourself MBA course then I will sign up for it and be able to have an ‘MBA’ badge of honor of my own. These guys just made education a whole lot more fun and interesting. I wish this project every success.