TED Conversations

Megan Summers

Impact Entrepreneurship Group


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Is the internet, not formal education, the new great equalizer?

Education then, beyond all other devices of human origin, is the great equalizer of the conditions of men, the balance-wheel of the social machinery. – Horace Mann


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    Oct 4 2011: An interesting article pertaining to this conversation. Stanford's Sebastian Thrun is offering his course "Introduction to Artifical Intelligence" free over the internet. Non-Stanford students will get the same lectures, assignments, and exams, but a "Certificate of Accomplishment" rather than a Stanford credit. Does this make you think differently about the future of formal education?

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      Oct 4 2011: It seems to me that, in this case, the format is still "formal". Its delivery is merely expanded.. As mentioned in another string, it is the means by which the instructor synthesizes and distills the material that is the essence of "formal" instruction. As far as the availability of MIT or Stanford courses goes; it's great to have these distinguished professors ideas on a subject. On the other hand, their ideas are not the final word. There are even instructors at community colleges that have insight also.
      Because the big name schools have a greater ability to distribute their content, it will likely cause more equalization, but not with necessarily good results. More students get exposed to fewer voices. This also renders the value of a less-than-Stanford education worth less.
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      Oct 4 2011: As one of my favorite professors used to say: "Yes and no." I worry that a formal education might become more elitist because it will be economically less possible for more and more people to attend in the flesh. Going online will be the only way to get access for most and a "Certificate of Accomplishment" is like an honorable mention (how does it stack up to an actual degree?). I wonder about what is lost when we strip education of its face-to-face component. I know I would not be the person I am today without the interpersonal engagement with smart, energetic, and compassionate professors that I was lucky to experience. At the same time, I can imagine some engaging ways to organize an online class. I also wonder if the push for virtual learning will have a streamlining effect on formal education.

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