Olga Korbut and Coursera

These days, all eyes are on the London Olympics, where often the stories told about past glories are as exciting as that shown in real time on the track, in the pool, or on the court. To prove the point, NBC immediately followed the upset victory by Andy Murray, (Gold Medal, Tennis) with a riveting story of how Olga Korbut “changed the face of gymnastics“.  Here is the link to it. 

What follows is how these dots connect to the delivery of free universal eduction, worldwide.

The chief lesson I have learned in the last two decades is how hard it is to cause change. In Olga’s case, change came as much from the decision by her coach to appeal to the crowd, as vs. the official judges, as it did by way of exceptional innovation in gymnastics.  Proved for all the world to see, on the mat, the bars, the rings and the “horse”.

As the article makes clear, Russian bureaucrats “didn’t do things this way; therefore it should not happen.” Who in the world of the academics hasn’t heard that refrain – a few zillion times?

Right now, I have a front row seat inside a virtual classroom at the University of Michigan, with a platform provided by Coursera.  Founded by two Stanford gurus, this for-profit entity raised $21 million on the basis that they had found a way to deliver free university courses to millions around the world — and make a profit from it. They have tied their rocket-ship to some of the great universities of the world; in so doing, they have burnished their rocket with branding that could not be bought with millions.

This is a jaw-dropping concept. But, change comes hard. It ain’t gonna come easy.

Here’s the “but”....

Like Olga at the 1972 Olympics, Coursera’s “roll out” has to be near perfect.  Social Media works both ways — those with truly outstanding performances get wide global applause. Those that stumble may never again get out of the gate.

Much more than $21 million is at stake!

In my not humble opinion, the hope of the whole world depends largely on providing affordable access to education, worldwide. It’s already an absolute certainty that the technology is at hand to do just that.  What’s not so certain is if the performance inside actual classrooms with attendance by heavily motivated students can actually meet Gold Medal standards.

Who will be the best judges?

I say it’s the students. The grades they give Coursera will be the largest determinant of all. Will they add more fuel for a great rocket-ship? Or fuel to blow up the idea that e-learning can’t be both free — AND exceptional?

Believe me, just as I was pulling hard for the upset that Andy Murray managed brilliantly, I’m pulling ten times — no!  –  a thousand times! – harder for Coursera!

But as I say: It ain’t gonna be easy.


About oregonhibbs

I'm passionate about improving access to education, worldwide, sailing, Duck football (I live in the shadow of the University of Oregon in Eugene) and connecting with people with ideas and work that "can change the world". With this in mind, I am the "Skipper" for Global Learn Day, which you can find out more about at bfranklin.edu.

Posted on August 5, 2012, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. John, You’re absolutely right about how hard it is to cause change. Yet the potential to do so has been greatly advanced by the internet and the ability to connect people and ideas.

    I’ve been following the growth of MOOC discussions over the past year and feel we’re using one word for two very different ideas.

    On one case it seems Coursera and similar groups are trying to make formal, accredited learning available to millions. Moving the traditional classroom to the internet where millions can take formal classes in any subject and learn from experts at a fraction of the cost.

    On the other case there is an informal connection between you, me, Webheads, Siemmens, Downes, Comer and many of the originators of the MOOC concept where we are discussing ideas like MOOCs, etc. and applying what we learn to the work we do and lives we live. In this case we’re building informal networks and expanding our range of ideas. Many of us are using these connections as part of the problem-solving role we play in our own organizations and communities. I don’t expect to ever get a formal degree from this, but do hope the result is more success in what I do to help kids in poverty move through formal education into jobs and careers and a future in informal connected learning.

    I’m concerned that the public focus on MOOCs is too much focused on the first scenario, moving formal learning into the virutual space. Yet I feel there is a great need to continue to develop the use of on-line learning networks to support community and global problem solving.

    I’d like to find investors willing to put up $20 million or more to support the problem solving potential of on-line communities of practice. I think that could help Coursera and others build more effective traditional learning platforms, while also leading to solutions to other problems that reduce the ability of the world’s population of poor people to access these online learning opportunities.

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