Opinion: Charging for knowledge is antiquated

Coursera, in less than six months, has enrolled 740,000 students.

Free universal knowledge is the most valuable resource in the world. Knowledge is an economic good that becomes more valuable as more people “consume” it.  The distribution of knowledge is in the process of transitioning from a scarce resource to a commodity.

The impact of this change upon the value of human capital in the world is nearly unimaginable. This change to free distribution of knowledge has the potential to dramatically improve lives and economies around the world. We are on the threshold of a global revolution in education that could make this one of the most exciting times in human history.

Sal Khan, founder and faculty of one of the Khan Academy, had a vision in 2009 of “educating the world.” With the Khan Academy now educating 1 million students a month, his vision is becoming a reality. This initiative has been followed by edX, the partnership of MIT and Harvard, which has a mission to educate 1 billion people.

Click here for more on Bill Sams’ predictions for the end of traditional higher education

At the same time, Stanford- based Coursera has launched and in less than six months this program has enrolled 740,000 students. These are the vanguards of a wave of education that is sweeping across the world with the potential to change one of the foundation stones of human existence, knowledge.

In the last six months the economic model of a scarcity of teaching resources justifying a rationing of education has been changed to a free commodity model of unlimited availability and world-class quality education. This changes everything.

For the first time in human history there is the possibility of every person in the world being able to optimize their learning potential. Education is rapidly moving from an individual craft to a global commodity.

The scarcity barriers of limited admission, prerequisites, cost, place, space, and time are all being removed. The only limitations are internet access and a person’s own time.

This decade will see the last generation of students economically shackled by the indentured servitude of student loans. Students will be freed from the lockstep of fixed curricula delivered at a set time and in a set place.

Imagine the potential for the entire world to share a common experience in a subject with a single teacher who not only teaches them but who also will teach generations of their children. Sal Khan may well be the first of a few who will reach this potential.

Imagine the economic impact on developing countries when they have local engineers who trained online with MIT and Harvard courses and who can now solve local community problems of water, roads, and sanitation. Imagine the additional economic impact on those developing countries when other members of their communities are acquiring valuable skills for jobs in a global virtual market.

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