Education (R)evolution

Posted on 23 December 2011  •  Permalink  •  Category misc

The past two months I have gone back to being a student again. Well, at least in the evening hours. Following took a significant part of the time I would have otherwise spent on other personal endeavors such as reading, blogging or writing XBMC remotes, but it was worth every minute. Although the future might prove me wrong, I have the feeling that the internet — after affecting or re-inventing many other fields — is now starting to redefine education as well. Not that the internet itself reinvents something; its of course humans themselves that redefine things using the internet as a new medium. That’s what Peter Norvig and Sebastian Thrun did with their “Introduction to Artificial Intelligence” class.

Salman Kahn’s Kahn Academy was the first pioneer that I heard of that was trying to combine education and the internet in a very useful way, and he’s ever-expanding the number of online lessons you can watch. With 2,700 videos you can learn something new everyday for the next 7 years. Amazing.

Back in August I read on Hacker News the announcement that Stanford is opening up an AI class via the web. For free. I was really excited about this idea and I enrolled that same day. During my CS program at the Eindhoven University of Technology I didn’t really took any of the AI or machine learning tracks, so it would also be a very interesting topic for me to learn more about. How would that be, to enroll and follow a full class through the internet? Would I be able to do a Stanford-level class in my spare time, next to my day-time job? Is this the future of education?

After going through the full class I can only say I liked it very much. The material was interesting, the format was very well thought out, and both professor Norvig and professor Thrun are apt and enthusiastic teachers. To get a feeling of the format, just follow one or two units, do some quizzes or take a look at the homework or exam questions. There were teething problems of course, and obviously an actual live lecture with a teacher and peers is in many ways incomparable to following an online class by yourself. However I believe this is a really good start and gets very close; after finishing the final exam and receiving my final rating, the accomplishment feels the same as it felt when I was attending university.

Summarized, I’ve learned a lot about a field that I had left unexplored up to now, and while doing that I might have also seen a glimpse of the future.