June 21, 2012

EaaF - Education as a Freemium [UPDATE]

Who would have thought it would come to this?... MIT, Stanford, Harvard, et tutti quanti availing their billion dollar knowledge to the masses... for FREE! What's even more intriguing is the undeniable truth that attending a good college is being rethought in a holistic way. I just want to touch on a few disturbing facts:


  1. Tuition: A couple of months back, when edX was launching it's online education platform with talks from both MIT and Harvard representatives, MIT's OCW (Open CourseWare) and other similar platforms like Coursera or the Salman Khan (MIT alumni) non-profit education videos were already a couple of months in the arena, i.e the Internet. Being the network of knowledge and information that it is fiercely determined to be, it was just a matter of time before top notch colleges and universities realize that higher learning is no longer the luxury of the chosen few. Quoting Anton Ego's final review from the Pixar animation Ratatouille, "not everyone can become a great artist, but a great artist can come from anywhere." This, finally, is true today and applicable to education. Saving for college is a thing of the past? What about the myriad of scholarship sponsors out there?
  2. Accessibility: Internet penetration is still a long way before it covers the whole globe, but this is also a matter of time. Younger generations today reached a point where they cannot differentiate between knowledge online and offline, the former taking the pole position more often.
  3. Requirements: Just like Facebook is trying to close in to a billion subscribers by opening up a network for under-age nerdies, these education platforms are breaking the age boundaries around the content that's freely available.
  4. Certification: This is where the catch is. Simply put, online scholars cannot weigh the same as their offline counterparts, although the material is identical. But if, as Anant Agarwal explains, online subscribers have surpassed the total students MIT has ever had since 100 or so years ago; how does that translate on the marketplace? What value will be given to online vs offline graduates?
Other famous universities are taking a different, albeit competitive, approach by reaching out to under-developed communities and offering the same opportunities as anyone in the Western world. Carnegie Mellon is soon beginning its Master program in MIS here in Kigali. Since last year, they have organized themselves into an outlet of the Pennsylvania-based campus to introduce courses and degree programs gradually. In the end, any graduate from CMU-Rwanda is identical to a graduate in Pennsylvania.

I cannot help but think just how irrelevant where one went to school will be in a near future.

UPDATE: There is fierce competition going on about EaaF at the moment. The other day, I received an email from none other but Sebastian Thrun, the eminent professor behind the Google self-driving car. He is also the co-founder of udacity, another free-education platform. His email, however, raises a couple of concerns as to where this is all going. He wants me to take part in a study he's conducting by joining in to the turn up list for his upcoming course on "Intro to Statistics" so he can prove a point!Well, at this point of time edX wants me to be part of their revolution. I've already completed a couple of classes from udacity, and recently joined the khanacademy.org website to re-take a couple of math classes. All this is great, but can you smell the fierce competition here? I'd be happy to do Sebastian a favor, if he sends me a test kit from Project Glass!

About @bobuntu: Robert Nsinga is a young business enthusiast who has 4 years of experience working to apply IT into working environments. From legal to educational, to health institutions, he has been closely involved with both the problems and the solutions to his country's working conditions. Working as a marketing officer in RwandAir, he maintained a good record of achievements and professional exposure that helped grow his entrepreneurial thirst until he decided to open his own company recently. Ceable, Inc is more of a vision than it is a company at the moment, but watch this space as he exposes his talents and skills.

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