Online Education Branches Way Out

“Fifty years from now there will be only 10 institutions in the whole world that will deliver higher education.” –Sebastian Thrun of Udacity


Harvard and MIT have put up together 60 million dollars toward a collaborative project to provide free online education as part of a new digital education project they have been working on since the fall. These two universities will announce their first offerings in free set of online courses developed by the faculty in both institutions. Harvard’s president Drew Faust said that this online effort will be part of a strategy to also help shape teaching and learning on campus. She stated that the ultimate goal is to collaborate with even more universities to host a large range of offerings on one site. The name of this initiative is called edX. Currently, edX offers grades but won’t give out degrees. To get a degree, you still have to pay. However, MIT will give out certificates for a small fee.


In addition Stanford University began a private start-up call Udacity that developed when Sebastian Thrun and David Evans offered free Stanford courses in computer programming that 160,000 enrolled in. Eventually was funded by venture capital and $200,000 of Thrum’s personal money. The goal for the two professors was to democratize education.  One of the best outcomes of Udacity’s online program are the frequent (un-graded) quizzes that tests the student’s formative stages of learning without any negative consequences. In this way the students can track what they learn and don’t learn from the lectures. Udacity’s online CS225 student population grew into 58,000 students. However, they only offer a statement of completion and not a certificate and the class wouldn’t count for a Stanford University credit. What did happen though was that Thrun emailed the top 1000 students in the course with perfect or near perfect scores on their homework and tests and solicited resumes to get the best ones into the hands of the right technical companies.

Menerva Project

The Menerva Project started by Ben Nelson former SEO of Snapfish. The Menerva project’s thrust is to provide an education for the, “incredibly smart, incredibly hardworking-mostly middle class-that are being left out of the elite system.”[1] This stems from the fact that the Ivy League schools are getting yet more exclusive. For example, Harvard had a record low acceptance rate of 5.9 %. . The dean of Harvard admissions admitted that 85% of applicants are qualified but less than 10% are admitted. The Menerva Project wants to attract top students that wouldn’t be accepted to the ivy league schools because of their low acceptance rate. Furthermore, the Menerva Project would drastically reduce the tuition price. Another interesting aspect is the Menerva Project will accept students on academic merit alone. Extracurricular activities such as sports will not be considered. In addition, they will also encourage students to live together in apartments and maybe even move to another part of the world where the Menerva Project’s online education can be accessed.  The Menerva Project is heavily funded but won’t be available for enrollment until 2014 and the tuition will be far less than that of an Ivy League university.


The other large effort online education push was started by Stanford computer science professors Andrew Ng and Daphne Koller called Coursera. Coursera is a free online education funded by start-up money and have already signed on Princeton, Stanford, The University of Michigan, and the University of Pennsylvania. Each university partner will create their own courses under the university brand.

[1] Ben Nelson on the Menerva Project.

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