Sebastian Thrun on the changing landscape of education

Here is an interview with Sebastian Thrun, where he discusses his ideas and thoughts on the changing landscape of education from the traditional classroom type education in a college to interactive online learning.

I am really inspired by his talk. He speaks with the confidence of a true visionary and is clearly out with a mission to change the world where one does not have to shell out huge lumps of money to get a good education. I have registered for a few courses on Udacity, including Peter Norvig’s course and recently registered for the Physics and AI courses. Because I am doing a Masters course in Computer Science in parallel, I am able to contrast the standard classroom education and online education at the same time. The major reason I enrolled in a university in the United States, traveling thousands of miles was not to get a better job or just to certify myself as a Masters student, but to learn from the best teachers out there so that I can improve my knowledge. But even while in a university, one need not get the best a field has to offer. e.g. A university may have great profs in Systems, but not so much for HCI or AI. Now, with Udacity , Coursera , Khan academy and other players in the field providing online classes from the established professors in each field (case in point Sebastian Thrun for AI), one can go to these materials to fill in blank spots. I personally think university education is overrated. In my 4 years of undergraduate education in India, I did not learn much from my coursework. Rather, I learnt most of what I know from online sources. Without these, I would be writing crappy code at some mass recruiting software firm in India. 

My thoughts on some of the major advantages that such a model offers is

  • You can go back and view the same video over and over again till you get the concept. You can also go back and revise concepts you might have forgotten.
  • You can focus on one course at a time, which I feel is one of the best advantages. Most universities try to push a lot of knowledge at once into the brain by making you register for many courses in parallel. In my opinion, different people have different rates of concentration/absorption. For one, I perform much better when focusing on one topic over a long time rather than multitasking with 4 different topics at the same time.
  • Take it at your own pace. This is more useful for people who want to learn something new as a hobby, and may not be able to devote their entire time to it
  • Its fun and engaging, and you can watch it at home , at airport stop overs , on a bus journey sipping soda and lying on a bean bag instead of sitting in silence in a classroom listening to the monotone of the prof.

Thank you, Sebastian Thrun. Thank you, Salman Khan. A big thank you to all those educators out there who have made it their mission to ensure everyone gets a good education irrespective of their social status, background or geography.