“The dream that new technologies might radically disrupt education is much older than Udacity, or even the Internet itself. As rail networks made the speedy delivery of letters a reality for many Americans in the late 19th century, correspondence classes started popping up in the United States. The widespread proliferation of home radio sets in the 1920s led such institutions as New York University and Harvard to launch so-called Colleges of the Air, which, according to an article in The Chronicle of Higher Education, prompted a 1924 journalist to contemplate a world in which the new medium would be ‘the chief arm of education’ and suggest that ‘the child of the future [would be] stuffed with facts as he sits at home or even as he walks about the streets with his portable receiving-set in his pocket.’ Udacity wasn’t even the first attempt to deliver an elite education via the Internet: In 2001, MIT launched the OpenCourseWare project to digitize notes, homework assignments, and, in some cases, full video lectures for all of the university’s courses.”

Max Chafkin, in Fast Company, on the difficulties of online education and the struggles of Udacity founder Sebastian Thrun. Read more from Chafkin in the Longreads Archive.


Photo: 29908091@N00, Flickr

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