In the summer of 2011, Sebastian Thrun lit a fire under colleges around the world. The Stanford professor and a colleague filmed themselves lecturing for their course on artificial intelligence and put the videos online so that anyone could join, the Baltimore Sun reports.

Roughly 160,000 students from around the world took them up on the offer. And even Stanford students found the videos more compelling than going to the class itself.

The runaway success of the “Stanford AI Course” touched off a wave of excitement over Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs). They offer a model for delivering classes online to any person who wants to enroll, with no limit on attendance.

It’s hard to overstate the hype that followed Stanford’s Al course. To date, venture capitalists have poured more than $100 million into MOOC companies like Coursera and Udacity. Mr. Thrun himself told a reporter that in 50 years, there will only be 10 universities, and Udacity could be one of them.

… MOOCs were supposed to make higher education more accessible by opening university courses to the world. That’s a great goal, but it’s not new. Every major communications technology has been adapted to deliver education beyond the classroom. The University of London first offered degrees by correspondence as early as 1858. A century later, CBS television broadcast lectures from NYU professors every morning in the “Sunrise Semester.”

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