on a world with only 10 universities


Reading the post/transcript of Audrey Watters' presentation from the OpenVA pre-conference, and something struck me.

Compare the predictions of two experts in their fields, extrapolating their personal visions forward a few decades:

"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

I'm carrying 2 computers with me right now, and each one would have been considered high-end workstation-class devices only a few years go. I use several more, as does everyone else. Watson wasn't wrong - his vision clearly led to giant computers run by governments and giant corporations. Time sharing systems meant monstrous computers would be tasked with jobs from many client organizations. In 1943, he couldn't have possibly seen microprocessors and coprocessors and GPU-offloading and miniaturization of devices. Or the internet.

I think Thrun believes he is correct. But his forecast is interesting because it points out his utter disregard for anything beyond content dissemination and the entrenchment of control in the hands of the few who are worthy of such a task.

I think Thrun is on the wrong track, though.

In my mind, Thrun's model positions The Giant MOOCs as toxic, and diametrically opposed to the real and essential goals of education.

Sure, there will be consolidation. There will be new institutions, different institutions, and institutions that wither and/or die. I think that the proliferation of connections and of the ability for individuals to publish content, connect with others, and to access information means that there will essentially be "universities" for every one of us. 7 billion universities controlled by individuals, rather than just 10 uber-universities controlled by governments and giant corporations. Open education, competency-based badging, and portfolio-based accreditation would naturally lead in that direction.

Does that mean that traditional universities will go away? Absolutely not. I think they will remain essential, perhaps even moreso, but that their roles will shift. To what? I have no idea. But we will need to adapt and respond, and be able to enable and support learning and research that grows well outside the traditional boundaries of post-secondary institutions.


See Also