Learn something for free. Change the world.

Udacity started another round of courses this past week.  In case you’ve not heard of it yet, you should know, it’s going to change the world.  Udacity is a free online university, so far presenting courses that teach programming at several levels.  Over the next 7 weeks they’re bridging out into statistics, physics and discrete math.  This program is not the only one of its kind on the forefront of this new educational model.  In addition to Udacity, Khan Academy, EdX, OpenClassroom, Coursera, and Codecademy are some of the better known players in this field.

These startups should not be underestimated.  They represent a revolutionary change in the educational model of this world.

In the last 6 months, I’ve studied up on the Python, learned some JavaScript, HTML, and CSS.  I’ve reviewed the fundamental ideas of object oriented programming and built my first few web applications.  My skills as a programmer have been enhanced in both my work and play (yeah, play, I know I’m a nerd).  For now, the offerings are mostly computer science in nature, but branching out will follow soon.

All of this comes at a time when the typical graduating college student is saddled with more than $25k in debt.  Forbes profiled Thrun and his work with Udacity in a piece this week titled “How Would You Like A Graduate Degree For $100?”   The spirit of the piece is simple – higher education has fundamental flaws, it’s time for a disruptive change.

This change will be resisted.  When Thrun ran his original course in AI while at Stanford, several alums made comments about the dilution of the Stanford brand.  Similar occurrences happened between MIT alums and the MITx initiative.  In the course of any disruptive change, the institutions with vested interest in the status quo tend to resist new ideas.  But I fervently believe that a version of the free online education system that is just now taking shape will change the world.

It just takes the next person logging on to learn something for free.

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