Silicon Valley's Hottest Innovations 2016

Lessons for the Future

Udacity, the online education start-up, wants students of today to learn the technology of tomorrow

Dawid Bilski

Udacity - COmapny DetailsKeep learning till you drop dead!
Provoking as it may sound, but that’s how Sebastian Thrun envisages the future of education. “I was a professor at Stanford University for 10 years. I can say it’s much harder to change the curriculum every half a year. You become an expert in one thing and tend to teach the same thing for the rest of your life. That means colleges turn over content every 30 or 40 years,” says the 46-year-old, who was a professor of computer science at Stanford.

To understand where Thrun is coming from, it is important to know how it all began first. It was in 2011, Thrun and his friend Peter Norvig at Google, decided to throw open Stanford’s ‘Introduction to Artificial Intelligence’ course online for free. Within weeks, more than 160,000 applications from over 200 countries poured in. It was a pleasant surprise. While 200 students of Stanford completed the study on campus, so did 23,000 students across the world, online. But what followed next set Thrun thinking. When scores from the final exam were ranked, none of the top 400 students were from Stanford and the strongest campus student was ranked 415th. “That’s when we recognised that while Stanford attracted extraordinarily talented students, there is even a larger number of talented individuals who couldn’t make it to top universities, but deserved every bit of the same top-notch education,” says Thrun, sitting at Udacity’s office in Mountain View, California. He is not off the mark. In March 2016, Stanford announced that 2,063 high school students were admitted to the class of 2020 from a pool of 43,997 — the largest application pool in the institution’s history. The admitted students had come from the US and 76 other countries.

One for all
The need to democratise education using internet and, the fact that the cost of Stanford online experiment was just 16 cents per student, which is a small fraction of $52,000 a year, that a student otherwise pays for the course at Stanford, formed the cornerstone on which Udacity went online in 2011 by offering its first course titled, ‘Building Your Own Search Engine.’ 

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