“When I called a MOOC a lousy product I wasn’t kidding,” says Sebastian Thrun, the prime mover of the modern MOOC movement and the vast hype that came to surround it, in a new interview at Pando Daily. The fatal flaw in the “classic MOOC,” Thrun now says, is that it was free. You can only have a decent MOOC if you get rid of the MO and just have the OC.
“It’s not a MOOC [anymore] because we end up charging for it,” Thrun says, in describing the new online courses offered by his company, Udacity, which require students to pay a fee to receive a “service layer” of mentorship. “I feel confident asking people for money because their money is better spent on this than doing a free course and dropping out after a week.”
But doesn’t charging tuition subvert the grand promise that free online courses would “democratize” higher education?
Replies Thrun: “All our material is still available for free. If you’re a student who can’t afford the service layer you can take the MOOC, on demand, at your own pace. If you’re affluent, we can do a much better job with you, we can make magic happen.”
The poor get the “lousy.” The affluent get the “magic.”
As history professor Jonathan Rees delicately puts it, “Pardon me while I go vomit.”
But Thrun deserves the last word: “I am a total friend of honesty.”
Image: “Wreck of School House,” from Library of Congress.