Sebastian Thrun, godfather of the massive open online course, has quietly spread a plastic tarp on the floor, nudged his most famous educational invention into the center, and is about to pull the trigger. Thrun—former Stanford superprofessor, Silicon Valley demigod, and now CEO of online-course purveyor Udacity—just admitted to Fast Company’s openly smitten Max Chafkin that his company’s courses are often a “lousy product.”
This is quite a “pivot” from the Sebastian Thrun, who less than two years ago crowed to Wired that the unstemmable tide of free online education would leave a mere 10 purveyors of higher learning in its wake, one of which would be Udacity. However, on the heels of the embarrassing failure of a loudly hyped partnership with San Jose State University, the “lousiness” of the product seems to have become apparent. The failures of massive online education come as no shock to those of us who actually educate students by being in the same room with them—and, accordingly, Chafkin’s unabashed display of sycophantic longing has blazed up the academicInternet.
The author asks, near the end of the article: “If the only university students who can benefit from a MOOC are those who can already afford an elite education, and if the only corporate trainees who succeed are those already primed for success, then what is the point?”