How would you like a graduate degree for $100?

June 7, 2012 | Source: Forbes
Sebastian Thrun

Sebastian Thrun

Getting a master’s degree might cost just $100 from education startup Udacity, says Google Fellow and Udacity co-founder Sebastian Thrun.

However, “It’s pretty obvious that degrees will go away,” Thrun says. “The idea of a degree is that you spend a fixed time right after high school to educate yourself for the rest of your career. But ­careers change so much over a lifetime now that this model isn’t valid anymore.”

Udacity currently offers 11 courses, for free, in subjects such as computer programming, statistics and mathematics, plus a robocar programmer’s workshop with Thrun himself. Thrun says the service will always have “a free path,” but the idea is eventually to charge for certificates or enhanced features such as chat.

Thanks to a global boom in cheap, high-speed Internet connectivity, such courses can be beamed around the world for just 50 cents to $1 per student. That makes mass teaching much more affordable than it was a few years ago. Just as important, the rise of Facebook, Twitter and other social networks means that today’s students are comfortable forming multihour study groups with online acquaintances they’ve never met in the physical world.

Udacity’s engineers are learning which little things they need to get right. The company’s production studio carefully avoids full-body shots of professors lecturing; that makes for tiresome viewing. Instead, most footage consists of close-up shots of instructors writing out key lecture points on a digital tablet. Clever editing speeds up long words. When everything clicks, one instructor says, “it feels like a personal tutorial.”