What Udacity is creating, Thrun said, is "an online version of education that really works, that has great retention, great outcomes of education and really reaches people -- not just the world's most motivated 1% -- but can be made to work for many more people."
And what is the secret to creating "an online version of education that really works"? (Emphases mine.)
Thrun's magic formula is not a fully automated online class featuring prerecorded videos and Web-based assessments. In other words, it's not a MOOC at all. To get better results, he said, "We changed the equation and put people on the ground." By adding mentors and a help line, and making phone calls to remind students to do their work, Udacity found it could get more students to do the work, finish the course and pass. Longer term, he has some ideas about using adaptive learning software to eliminate some of this labor, but for now it takes manpower.
For this observer, the following questions come to mind:
"When we look at the data, which we are still analyzing, we do find a whole bunch of people for whom online education doesn't work," Thrun said. "But we're now massively driving students through education with good outcomes -- where these are not the classic, highly self-motivated people."
- Why did it take everyone so long to figure out that teaching requires human labor that is not readily automated?
- What does Udacity know about online education that many traditional universities with online programs do not know?
- And here is the multi-billion dollar question: Given the degree to which for-profit universities have invested in online education, what does Udacity know that the University of Phoenix does not know?