Continuing Conversation... Daphne Koller on Education, Coursera, and MOOCs

EconTalk Extra
by Amy Willis
Daphne Koller on Education, Co... Nathan Blecharczyk on Airbnb a...

This week, Russ Roberts chatted with former Stanford professor and Coursera co-founder Daphne Koller about the present and future of online education.


We'd like to hear your thoughts about blended learning and/or online education. Use the prompts below and post your response in the comments, or start your own conversation offline and let us know how it goes. We love to hear from you.

Check Your Knowledge:

1. What are the commonalities among all of Coursera's offerings? What makes Coursera unique in the online education community today?

Going Deeper:

2. Koller insists that Coursera and other offerings like it are not a threat to universities. How does she explain this, and to what extent do you agree?

3. Koller notes a wide variety of course completion rates among Coursera's offerings. How would Nassim Taleb explain these results?

Extra Credit:

4. Roberts asks Koller what potential exists for online learning to be truly disruptive. How would you answer this question? Does your answer differ depending on whether the focus is K-12 or higher education? Why? Is Koller right that any transformation won't happen in the U.S. first? To what extent does Koller's (and your) answer and to this question match Arnold Kling's? Explain.

Comments and Sharing

TWITTER: Follow Russ Roberts @EconTalker

COMMENTS (6 to date)
Glenn Hall writes:

Coursera is an incredible resource!

I have an undergrad degree in Finance and an MBA from a brick and mortar university. I have taken a dozen courses on Coursera and a few on EdX. I find the Coursera platform a lot more user friendly, plus they have a much larger range of courses.

On Coursera I have taken:

- Advanced Competitive Strategy
- Globalization and You
- The Music of the Beatles
- Social Psychology (Daphne mentioned this as the course with the highest enrollment. Great course!)
- Songwriting
- Leading Strategic Change in Organizations
- How to Change the World
- Analysing Global Trends for Business and Society
- On Strategy: What Managers Can Learn from Philosophy
- A Beginner's Guide to Irrational Behavior (this is the most popular course on Coursera. A course on Behavioral Economics taught by Dan Ariely of Duke University. Dan would be a great guest on Econ Talk!)
- Financial Markets (taught by Nobel Prize winner Robert Schiller)
- Introduction to Marketing (MBA level course offered by the Wharton School. I already have an MBA, but I still got a lot out of the course!)

I disagree with Daphne that Coursera does not represent a threat to universities. A great opportunity for an entrepreneur to find a way of bunding courses together and finding a way to credentialize them. I can easily see mid and low rank universities being crushed by Coursera the same way retailers were Amazoned!

My biggest problem with Coursera is finding the time to take all the great stuff theyy are putting out there!

Freda writes:

Koller's pre-Coursera background (machine learning applied in biomedical science) is very interesting. I wish that and her transition to building Coursera were featured earlier in the show.

I am one of those non-completers, dabbling in online courses on all major MOOC platforms. What's most valuable to me is that the course provides a roadmap for all levels of learning. If I want to dig deeper, read more, apply more, I can always get ideas from the curriculum, the discussion forums or other resources available as part of the course.

Thanks for exploring these themes -- the digital revolution and democratization in education -- on the show.

Scott Campbell writes:

I am pretty sure this interview makes my top ten. I have two suggestions. First, incentivize content-expert submissions by using the App Store concept. Creat a place where the content expert can submit a lesson for download at a minimum price and receive a rating by the consumer. Second, democratize the outcome. Allow the better student to gain access to individualized learning. If any learner is naturally bright enough, to excel at the subject, his or her success should qualify for greater teacher involvement and potentially being personally mentored by the master teacher or content expert.

I have believed for some time now that the brick and mortar aspect of education is over but the existing institutions will become even more research specific than educational content facilities. Their function will be to facilitate gatherings rather than merely house students an faculty.

Scott Campbell writes:

A second thought. Coursera maybe prophetic. The era of courses may be the last dying gasp of a pedagogy practiced since the first brick and mortar edifice to educational elitism.

Machine intelligence, computer aided experience, and human learning styles will supplant the previous: listen to me talk, watch me write, regurgitate the specific answer, stay on task, and hope the instructor is good mentality of the past.

Once we can free ourselves of the shackles of academia and its self-protective information limiting degree granting status. The world of information will become available to us with an app that alerts us to the next learning opportunity, facilitates our understanding, assess our aptitudes, responds to our insights, enables subject mastery, and connects us to like mined people as well as provide serendipitous incidents.

The world of information will no longer be the property of the well connected or subject to incidental, accidental, or proprietary access. Like cream the best and the brightest will rise to the top and enrich humanity and like the tide will float all boats.

Christian Schnaas writes:

I always enjoy hearing Daphne Koller. In her TED talk there was no real chance to hear about her reaserch background which explains her drive to leave such a meaningful footprint in what she is currently doing.
I considered myself an early adopter of MOOC education having completed some of the earliest offerings of EDx. Now I realize that Coursera is really where the early adopters come from.
Every article, interview or conference I have seen or heard on MOOCs asks the question about the substitution of brick and mortar. I realize that Mrs. Koller as well as other experts involved in the subjet cannot unequivocally answer YES. It seems to me that this would sound like a challenge to the business model of one's own suppliers.
This question also makes me think of the shift of bargaining power that exists between a producer and its distributor when the distributor generates economies of scale and controlls access to customers. Eventually, the distributor could gain enough power to decide what products get more exposure, carry enough stock or are discounted to stimulate demand. With such degree of control, the distributor may decide to integrate vertically and start producing its own version of its supplier's products. Witness "own brands" at supermarkets. The same way I picture MOOC providers deciding on exposure of content, offering specific features and even going as far as granting certificates from the platrorm, replacing the reputation now conferred by the university.
Yes, I picture the day when a Coursera Suma Cum Laude will carry stronger weight than a simmilar degree from X university.

Speed writes:

John Taylor has a piece in this morning's Wall Street Journal ...

A New Twist in Online Learning at Stanford
What I learned from teaching Econ 1 on the Web to students who included one in Botswana

But Econ 1v is not a typical MOOC. My experience teaching large classes is that most people need more than lectures and a few quizzes to learn basic economics. They have to be active, talk the language of economics, work out problems, and take the economic models seriously by applying them to current events. That requires a level of commitment not usually seen in the typical MOOC, where attrition rates are reportedly very high.
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