Douglas Crets

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Giving Credibility to the Shadow Education System

Big Think Launches Online University

Ideas web site Big Think today launched an attempt at an online university. The e-learning platform is shot at trying to aggregate the world’s best thinkers and innovators on one platform to make learning in subject areas easy for anyone. Here’s a segment of their announcement, which they posted on their site and in an newsletter sent out this afternoon:

For the first time in more than three centuries, Harvard and Yale will concurrently offer the same course — and its primary “text” won’t be a book, but rather a video lecture series comprising the world’s greatest thinkers and leading scholars.

Students are already responding. At Yale, 145 students have already registered for Great Big Ideas, for a class limited in size to 18 – making it the third most popular course on campus even before its first day of class. (Intro Economics and Intro Psychology are #1 and #2).

Great Big Ideas delivers an undergraduate liberal arts education in 12 weeks. It’s a survey of twelve major fields delivered by their most important thinkers and practitioners, including former Big Think guests Leon BotsteinSteven PinkerMichio KakuLarry SummersDoug MeltonPaul Bloom and many others.

Each lecture explores the key questions in the field, lays out the methods for answering those inquiries and explains why the field matters.  It is an effective introduction to thinking differently, and a primer in the diverse modes of problem solving essential for success in the 21st century. And, while the company is partnering with major universities, they are also challenging the basis of their traditional models of education.

Pretty interesting that Harvard and Yale share the same course. This is disruptive thinking, and it borrows the brand and marketing halo of two major ivy league universities, giving Big Think a lot of credibility.

Which brings the question to the forefront: in an online world, is credibility or a degree more important? If I take most of my courses online from reputable sources, but don’t get a degree, am I just as viable a candidate for a job as someone who went to those schools but comes away from those programs with a much better human network than I do?

The future of scaling up this enterprise will be in enabling a special kind of networking ability for the “students” who use the platform. somewhere, someone is dreaming up a learning platform that is as much about great content as it is about networking. When you figure out the networking component, then you won’t need a Harvard or a Yale anymore. That’s the only reason they are number one and number two in anyone’s book.

Don’t think so?

Look what Larry Summers says about academics. Too focused on theory and not enough on what happens in the real world:

http://c.brightcove.com/services/viewer/federated_f9?isVid=1&isUI=1

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