Thrun: MOOCs never meant to replace college

Late last year, Thrun announced that Udacity would “pivot” toward more courses similar to vocational training. The company hopes to focus on further educating the already-educated, a goal that had previously taken a back seat to undergraduate-type courses.

“Every company that needs technologists complains about they can’t find skilled labor, even today,” he said. “At the same time, we have people who are currently unemployed and can’t even get into jobs. There we see the biggest opportunity for us at this point.”

Thrun said MOOCs were never meant to replace higher education, but to serve as a “complimentary way to reach new people.” In one Udacity MOOC based on a Stanford University course, for example, the top 400 students were all online learners, he said.

One must head further down the list, to 413, to find the best-performing Stanford student.

The students who find MOOC s effective may not be those who are the poorest or in the most remote locations, he said, but they are still students who would never step foot on the physical campus of an ivy league institution.

In another interview this month with the German newspaper Der Tagesspiegel, Thrun said MOOCs could even end up serving a role similar to that of reference books.

“But if one expected more of the courses, if they are to be the future of higher education, then the solution we have at the moment, is just not good enough,” he said. “Because then it is important that learners have not only access, but also success.”

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