on a world with only 10 universities

D'Arcy Norman, Oct 27, 2013
Commentary by Stephen Downes

Nice. D'Arcy Norman takes the sharp edge of the blade to Sebastian Thrun's bold prediction: "Compare the predictions of two experts in their fields, extrapolating their personal visions forward a few decades," he says.

  • “I think there is a world market for maybe 5 computers.” — Thomas Watson, 1943
  • “In 50 years, there will be only 10 institutions in the world delivering higher education.” — Sebastian Thrun, 2012

Could Thrun be as wrong as Watson was? Sure. Why would we settle for only 10 huge universities when we could have 10 million, or 100 million? Why would we buy into the idea that knowledge and learning are scarce and commodified when it could be open and free (like the recipe for a hamburger). "Thrun’s model positions The Giant MOOCs as toxic, and diametrically opposed to the real and essential goals of education," writes Norman. 

But Thrun's error does not mean (contra Norman) that the existing system is safe. It is threatened, not by giant mega-universities, but by the millions of universities that could spring up once educational resources become free, online support is generated by community, and the monopoly on testing and credentials is ended. I think there is a bold prediction in there, but it's not Thrun's prediction. It's the prediction that is the opposite of Thrun's (my prediction? Surely someone else has thought of this first).

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