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Khan and AI: Open Online Courses

I just listened to a great video discussion – Khan Academy and Stanford AI Class: Reinventing Education – with Peter Norvig, Sebastian Thrun, and Sal Khan. It’s a candid discussion of what each of these educators wanted to achieve with opening up their courses and content and some of the challenges they faced in the process. Most importantly, they (particularly Sebastian) discuss where they were wrong in their previous assumptions about learning.

I’ve been a bit frustrated in the past (actually, I still am) that the history of open courses has not been fully reflected in conversation about the Stanford AI class. People like David Wiley, Alec Couros, Stephen Downes and others have been running open courses since 2007 (this insidehighered article does touch on the history). Audrey Watters captures my thinking when she states: “What does it mean — culturally, pedagogically, politically, financially — that Stanford garners so much buzz for its free online courses while other MOOCs (Massively Open Online Courses) go unheralded?”. However, I’m sure there are educators pre-2007 who are saying “hey, we’re not getting credit for our work with open courses!”.

But that’s a personal ego gripe. It’s encouraging to see educators and trainers exploring the scaling capacity of learning through the use of technology. I enjoyed listening to the reflections of Sal, Sebastian, and Peter. They are excited, as many of us teaching open online courses are, about the capacity for accessible learning opportunities to increase student control and empowerment. Many of their proclamations (decoupling assessment from teaching, the creativity of learners when they don’t face organizational barriers, the power of the online experience) will be familiar to many who have followed our open courses. Interestingly, Thrun stated that online learners did better (by a factor of 2 with those making top grades) than in class learners.

It’s good to have growing diversity in researchers and educators offering alternative course models. As more people experiment with open online course, new tools will be developed and recognition of the value of open learning will also (hopefully) increase.


  1. I have to disagree: it’s not a personal ego gripe but a natural frustration. Anyone trying to explain MOOCs, open education and autonomous learning to “technoskeptic” colleagues feels it. They identify *all* online learning with for-profits, WGU, and the LMS loaded with preset course content. Now the Stanford AI will be added to the rogues gallery as stand-in for all massive online courses in future cautionary tales. Despite frustration, I still feel compelled to translate, explain, pull fingers out of ears. Colleagues can be the most challenging students

    Thursday, December 22, 2011 at 8:19 pm | Permalink
  2. Dan wrote:

    I think the reason the Standford class got so much buzz was that it was offered by Stanford. Additionally, the course was an attempt to adjust an already existing course to this new format. Most – but not all – of the previous Massive Open Online Courses I’ve taken part in have been somewhat insular in terms of topics covered (future of online education, training technology in Higher Education, etc.) and offered by smaller, less prestigous universities. That’s a debate I’m not touching with a 10 foot pole.

    I’m less concerned about credit for these ideas and inventions and more concerned about where this new open format goes and where we can take it.

    The Stanford course got it right in terms of the quality of the instructional resources and the overall adaptation of the design, and the GUI. I think they added a lot of value to existing designs and uses of open education platforms.

    As someone working in private industry, I’d love to see this format expanded to reach future students and provide better outreach to the community. For instance, the format offered by Stanford would be an awesome as a college prep. class aimed at high school juniors and seniors. It could be used to help them prepare for their first year of college.

    Have a big agricultural program at your university? Why not use this format to interact with and engage farmers and agricultural professionals, allowing both groups to learn from each other. This could strengthen the bonds between a university and the community. Such an arrangement would help the university focus its research and the community to continue to learn from, and see the value in, higher education institutions.

    There is a lot of potential here that hasn’t been explored. This is only the beginning. I’ve got some plans for this format that are far different from what has been done in the past.

    Friday, January 6, 2012 at 9:33 am | Permalink