Udacity is an organization founded in 2011 by Stanford researchers David Stavens and Mike Sokolsky, and Google VP and former Stanford professor Sebastian Thrun, with the goal of “democratizing” education. The idea began last year when Thrun, then a Stanford professor, offered his artificial intelligence class online so it could reach a broader audience. This audience would grow to over 160,000 students from 190 countries who enrolled in what would become Udacity’s first class. The organization currently has around 112,000 “active” students and instructors, with 739,000 total registrants. Instruction is offered in the form of free courses consisting of short, close-captioned video lectures by university professors, supplemented by quizzes and homework.
EdX, unlike the other organizations, is a venture spearheaded by universities and was conceived as a platform to provide an MIT-calibre education to anyone who wants it. EdX, announced in May, grew out of the MITx initiative — the brainchild of MIT President L. Rafael Reif and Professor Anant Agarwal. Each member institution labels edX courses under their own names, e.g. HarvardX, BerkeleyX, and MITx. Over 150,000 users from around the world signed up, and slightly over 7,000 passed the course and earned a certificate. Courses and certifications are currently free, but edX has plans to begin charging for more robust types of certification in the future.
Khan Academy is an educational nonprofit founded in September 2008 by Salman A. Khan. The website has since grown to contain over 3,300 videos, most of which were made by Khan himself. There are also over 400 million interactive problems, grouped loosely into 47 “courses,” ranging from addition to linear algebra and macroeconomics. Khan Academy receives over six million unique users each month, has around 380,000 YouTube subscribers, and has had 179 million video views so far. The videos have practice problems with hints and solutions. Users can earn badges based on their time spent on the site and how many assignments they have completed. There are also forums that foster collaboration between students.
Udemy is a San Francisco-based site offers range of courses, including ones on computer programming, computer languages, Excel, how to create a startup and how to raise capital for new companies. About 75 percent of its courses are free. The online education service had about 500,000 students at the end of 2012. Fees range from $10 to as much as $500 for a course, however, coupons with up to 75% discounts are offered frequently.
Traditional universities and training providers will face increasing cost pressure, however, the question is if online learning providers will disrupt the $500+ billion market eduction market. The problem is that employers don't care much about knowledge gained in a training course and education has little value no matter the school. The reality is that Yale and Stanford students learn anything of real world value, but because each school is a door opener. Attendance at either university properly signals to employers that the graduate (or dropout for that matter) is smart, probably hard working for having been accepted, and in possession of one or both of the attributes, that the individual can likely learn the skills necessary to achieve on the job. However, lower tier colleges and other professional training providers may face increasing competition through online marketplaces - especially if courses are aligned with industry standard certifications.