Postsecondary Learning

Udacity's Sebastian Thrun On the Future of Education

By Betsy Corcoran     Apr 3, 2013

Udacity's Sebastian Thrun On the Future of Education

TWEET THAT CLASS: We slipped into a talk at the Palo AltoCommonwealth Club by Sebastian Thrun, founder and CEO of Udacity. Along withtelling his story of how Udacity got started---and even named--Thrun shared afew comments on his company's pilot program with the California StateUniversity system and education broadly. Among them:

On helping students who currently are not served bycolleges: "In California, wehave 470,000 students waitlisted to get into community colleges. They'rewilling and eager to pay for education. But they can't get in." Udacity aimsto help support students who are not yet in college, who have to make up workto quality for college and who want to continue learning once they leavecollege.

On Udacity'sprogram with San Jose State University: Although the program with San JoseState is a pilot for only 300 students, it's "all set up to scale."Udacity is offering classes such as remedial math and statistics; students getcredits that they can take into the UC university system. The programs cost theuniversity 10% of the cost of a traditional program. Udacity is currently notmaking a profit on the program, Thrun conceded.

On learning: "The biggest revolution in learning isGoogle and Wikipedia. We learn on demand, when we need it." If yourecently learned how to refinance your house or read up on vacation spots, you learnedon demand, noted Thrun. "You can have the information at your fingertips.It's so profoundly different from education. We have to take education out ofthe extremely curated environment -- and bring it back to the playful model --and let students learn at their own pace."

On partnerships: Udacity has formed partnerships with 350companies that are interested in seeing the resumes of Udacity students."It turns out, if you take 15 Udacity classes, that's not a greatpredictor of success. A good balance is more advisable."

On hiring: Udacity has hired about 15 people itself from itsstudent population; the jobs didn't go to those who scored highest on the testsbut to those who proved most helpful in the online discussion groups.

On cheating: Udacity is offering proctored tests, both inlive environments and in online environments. Thrun says he believes people area bit too obsessed over cheating. "The vast majority [of Udacity students]don't cheat. If you find a way to cheat around 1,000 quizzes, you probablydeserve to pass. And if you find people to participate in your place in onlineforums, you should probably be a manager. As we transform testing fromsummative to formative assessment, then assessment becomes your friend. Youcrave to get to the next level. You cheat--and you lose."

On retention: "The Achilles heel [of MOOCs] is that theretention rates are low. Typically a class of 20,000 might have 500 or 1,000finishers … We felt that any solution that only carries 3% of kids isn't agreat solution." Udacity has consequently added mentors to help shepherdstudents through the program and added the incentive of college credit. Thoseefforts have boosted retention from 3% to 100%, Thrun asserts.

On the name: On the night they were filing papers to createthe company, "'Audacity' was taken. We liked the 'U' for university, foryou. So we became 'Udacity.'" He conceded that other countries can findthe name challenging. "We become 'U-da-city' in Europe."

On badges: "We've found more resistance among studentsthan employers. We have yet to find an employer who won't take them at facevalue; they don't care much about whether the exams were proctored….The biggestobstacle is on thIe student side." Invest in a poor education and youpractically need another life to catch up, Thrun suggested. "I see a lotof signals that [for students] it's really important to stay within thefor-credit, existing system.

On whether he's taken a MOOC class: "I've never made itthrough a complete MOOC," Thrun confessed. Much as books have been shrunkdown to the size of 140 character tweets, Thrun says he expects that we'llcontinue to compress education.
"I believe that 50 years from now, education will be as short and sweet asTwitter is today. It will be like an evening talk. And that will be a fantasticmoment."

The entire hour-long talk will air on KQED radio (88.5FM in San Francisco) on Friday, April 5 at 8 p.m. PT.

Postsecondary Learning

Udacity's Sebastian Thrun On the Future of Education

By Betsy Corcoran     Apr 3, 2013

Udacity's Sebastian Thrun On the Future of Education

TWEET THAT CLASS: We slipped into a talk at the Palo AltoCommonwealth Club by Sebastian Thrun, founder and CEO of Udacity. Along withtelling his story of how Udacity got started---and even named--Thrun shared afew comments on his company's pilot program with the California StateUniversity system and education broadly. Among them:

On helping students who currently are not served bycolleges: "In California, wehave 470,000 students waitlisted to get into community colleges. They'rewilling and eager to pay for education. But they can't get in." Udacity aimsto help support students who are not yet in college, who have to make up workto quality for college and who want to continue learning once they leavecollege.

On Udacity'sprogram with San Jose State University: Although the program with San JoseState is a pilot for only 300 students, it's "all set up to scale."Udacity is offering classes such as remedial math and statistics; students getcredits that they can take into the UC university system. The programs cost theuniversity 10% of the cost of a traditional program. Udacity is currently notmaking a profit on the program, Thrun conceded.

On learning: "The biggest revolution in learning isGoogle and Wikipedia. We learn on demand, when we need it." If yourecently learned how to refinance your house or read up on vacation spots, you learnedon demand, noted Thrun. "You can have the information at your fingertips.It's so profoundly different from education. We have to take education out ofthe extremely curated environment -- and bring it back to the playful model --and let students learn at their own pace."

On partnerships: Udacity has formed partnerships with 350companies that are interested in seeing the resumes of Udacity students."It turns out, if you take 15 Udacity classes, that's not a greatpredictor of success. A good balance is more advisable."

On hiring: Udacity has hired about 15 people itself from itsstudent population; the jobs didn't go to those who scored highest on the testsbut to those who proved most helpful in the online discussion groups.

On cheating: Udacity is offering proctored tests, both inlive environments and in online environments. Thrun says he believes people area bit too obsessed over cheating. "The vast majority [of Udacity students]don't cheat. If you find a way to cheat around 1,000 quizzes, you probablydeserve to pass. And if you find people to participate in your place in onlineforums, you should probably be a manager. As we transform testing fromsummative to formative assessment, then assessment becomes your friend. Youcrave to get to the next level. You cheat--and you lose."

On retention: "The Achilles heel [of MOOCs] is that theretention rates are low. Typically a class of 20,000 might have 500 or 1,000finishers … We felt that any solution that only carries 3% of kids isn't agreat solution." Udacity has consequently added mentors to help shepherdstudents through the program and added the incentive of college credit. Thoseefforts have boosted retention from 3% to 100%, Thrun asserts.

On the name: On the night they were filing papers to createthe company, "'Audacity' was taken. We liked the 'U' for university, foryou. So we became 'Udacity.'" He conceded that other countries can findthe name challenging. "We become 'U-da-city' in Europe."

On badges: "We've found more resistance among studentsthan employers. We have yet to find an employer who won't take them at facevalue; they don't care much about whether the exams were proctored….The biggestobstacle is on thIe student side." Invest in a poor education and youpractically need another life to catch up, Thrun suggested. "I see a lotof signals that [for students] it's really important to stay within thefor-credit, existing system.

On whether he's taken a MOOC class: "I've never made itthrough a complete MOOC," Thrun confessed. Much as books have been shrunkdown to the size of 140 character tweets, Thrun says he expects that we'llcontinue to compress education.
"I believe that 50 years from now, education will be as short and sweet asTwitter is today. It will be like an evening talk. And that will be a fantasticmoment."

The entire hour-long talk will air on KQED radio (88.5FM in San Francisco) on Friday, April 5 at 8 p.m. PT.

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