Someone please have a word with Sebastian Thrun!

“I haven’t seen a single study showing that online learning is as good as other learning.” (Quote from ‘Universities reshaping education on the web‘ in The Age – original in The New York Times)¬† This knuckleheaded claim was apparently made (apologies if the quote was wrong) by a leader in the current wave of online learning technologies, one Sebastian Thrun of Stanford University. That it was made at all is surprising, but to have been uttered by ‘a master of MOOCs’ is astonishing. For most of us who’ve worked in open and distance learning for decades, this confirms once again that Americans (to be more specific, certain citizens of the USA) are breathtakingly parochial, choosing to remain in blissful ignorance of worldwide developments in their field.

So, Sebastian, please logon and conduct at least a cursory search of the literature. Maybe even talk to someone who can point you in the right direction – any of the names in the blogroll on the right will be just fine. Or even Molly Corbett Broad, quoted in the article and the esteemed president of the American Council on Education.

Here’s Terry Anderson’s model for a good start. And guess what? It’s based on research!

And guess what you’ll discover? Yes, online learning (or correspondence education, distance learning, open learning, flexible learning, blended learning or pretty well any other form of technology-mediated learning) is as good as other learning! Though of course it’s not exactly clear what ‘other’ learning is.
Now where should Sebastian start? I’m sure we all have an opinion on this one. Perhaps a suggestion to acquaint himself with universities whose numbers already reach the many hundreds of thousands, even millions (hint: search under mega-universities). I’d point him to one of¬†Richard Clark’s famous articles that spurred a furious flurry of debate, such as ‘Reconsidering Research on Learning from Media‘. Yes, Sebastian, relevant research literature has been available for decades. Perusal and understanding of it will also help you to move on from the kind of simplistic study you are suggesting.
Whew, that’s got it off my chest. A short post, but a necessity for my own peace of mind.

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