After the astonishing success of his free online course on Artificial Intelligence at Stanford University, which attracted some 160,000 registrations, Sebastian Thrun has left Stanford to start his own online university Udacity. As reported on MSNBC, Thrun said: “Having done this, I can’t teach at Stanford again. You can take the blue pill and go back to your classroom and lecture to your 20 students, but I’ve taken the red pill and I’ve seen Wonderland.”
After my post in December on massively scalable training, I’ve found it hard not to come to the conclusion that I could achieve so much more leverage in my own domain if I was to employ the same techniques as Thrun (not that I’m putting myself forward as an equivalent, you understand). I’m slowly but inevitably approaching the end of my working life and yet I’ve still got massive goals. I’m determined to make some sort of contribution to the process of transforming learning and development in the workplace and I’m extremely busy in doing that. The trouble is that the interventions in which I participate reach 10 people here, 25 there, perhaps a couple of hundred if I’m lucky, when the need is to reach hundreds of thousands, if not millions. Let’s face it, I’m running out of time.
I have no problem with classrooms, when they’re used for the right purpose, and I enjoy the interaction with students. But scalable they are not. Somehow in the next few years we need to pump up the volume, not in decibels but in numbers of learners. We’re not going to do that face-to-face, nor with high-touch online tutoring. We need new ways to learn in which a much greater share of the responsibility for teaching and assessment falls on learners themselves, working collaboratively.