A couple weeks ago, I started taking an online class through a website called Udacity.
I love it. It’s smart, convenient, and free. But I love its potential even more.
Online learning is nothing new, of course. Plenty of colleges offer online classes, both for-credit courses and free material that’s open to the public. MIT and Stanford have been especially strong in that arena. Massively open online course (MOOC) websites such as Coursera and edX have taken this a step further, building a whole framework around web-based public learning, and Khan Academy has approximately 3 bazillion videos to teach you about anything you want to know. All very cool and exciting.
Udacity is different in a few important ways.
For one thing, unlike Coursera and edX, Udacity classes don’t have start or end dates. No waiting for a class to begin, no rushing to finish before a deadline. The knowledge is out there, ready whenever you are.
And unlike Khan Academy, which is still heavily focused on passive video-watching, Udacity keeps you engaged. You rarely sit through more than a minute or two of lecture before you’re prompted to answer a question. These questions aren’t so much to test you as to make sure you’re following along, getting the concepts, still awake.
The major drawback of Udacity (for now) is that their course library is limited, and very skewed toward computer science (CS) topics. But if you’re into that kind of thing, here’s some really exciting news. Udacity just partnered with Georgia Tech, which has one of the most-respected CS programs in the world, to offer the first-ever open, massively-online, fully accredited CS Master’s Degree. It’ll be offered at a fraction of the cost of a traditional CS Master’s, and if you don’t care about the degree, the material itself is available free and unfiltered.
In case you missed that last point, allow me to reiterate: you can now get a world-class Master’s-level education, for free, in your spare time.
Despite my excitement, this isn’t a story about Udacity or Georgia Tech. They’re just two players in a much larger game, and whether they succeed or fail, the game will go on. Coursera is also expanding rapidly.
And I want to be clear about one thing in particular: the knowledge explosion isn’t just some pleasant side effect of Internet magic. Educational sites like Udacity, Coursera, edX, Khan Academy – as well as other players, such as Google, Wolfram Research, and the Wikimedia Foundation – are deliberately and systematically unshackling the world’s information.
This isn’t just about classes and colleges anymore. It’s about living on a planet where we breathe in data like [easyazon-link asin=”B005SUEVHU” locale=”us”]oxygen[/easyazon-link].
If you’ve been waiting for the future, it’s arrived.