Clay Shirky: On Napster, Udacity and the Role of MOOCs in Higher Education

Last week, during a relaxing morning, I happened across a great article by Clay Shirky entitled Napster, Udacity, and the Academy. It kind of blew me away. So much so that I’ve been thinking about it, ever since.

Shirky’s article traces how the mp3 changed the way we interact with music, and from there leaps to propose that our colleges and universities are on the verge of a similar shift.

When the mp3 format first came out, it was dismissed as a sub-standard format: the quality wasn’t comparable to what you would get from a CD. But the mp3 format had the ability to reach a greater audience at a lower cost, and the rest (Pandora,, Rdio) is history.

Shirky goes on to talk about MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses), and how they’re able to reach a wider audience beyond the boundaries of our existing/physical campuses:

MOOCs expand the audience for education to people ill-served or completely shut out from the current system, in the same way phonographs expanded the audience for symphonies to people who couldn’t get to a concert hall, and PCs expanded the users of computing power to people who didn’t work in big companies.

Here’s a crazy fact: in 2011, two Stanford professors (Peter Norvig and Sebastian Thrun) taught an online course called Introduction to Artifical Intelligence. Of the 160,000 students who signed up, only about 23,000 completed it. And while the success rate isn’t so great, the sheer number of students they were able to educate in one pass is absolutely staggering. Looking back, Thrun said: “Peter and I taught more students AI, than all AI professors in the world combined.”

While many view online courses to be inferior to “real” courses, Shirky argues that the very openness of online courses enables them to be improved upon:

And once you imagine educating a thousand people in a single class, it becomes clear that open courses, even in their nascent state, will be able to raise quality and improve certification faster than traditional institutions can lower cost or increase enrollment.

Ok. There’s too much great material in his article, and I’ll likely just end up quoting the whole thing if I don’t stop. I’m very interested to see what my friends (who are still teaching and involved at the university level) think of all this.

The article is well worth a read, and I highly suggest you give it a look (even if you’re not in school, or not involved in higher education). It’s pretty fascinating.

With free online services like Duolingo and Udacitypopping up with greater frequency, who knows what the future has in store for education? But the overall message seems to be that it’s good news for anyone who wants to learn.

Clay Shirky Video: Why SOPA is a Bad Idea
Clay Shirky Video: How Technology is Shaping Groups and Conversations
Learn a New Language While Helping to Translate the Web: Duolingo

This Post Has 0 Comments

Leave A Reply