I have blogged frequently on the workforce challenges facing the utility industry resulting from accelerating retirement among engineers and skilled workers and by the technology transformation associated with the smart grid. Community colleges in partnership with utiltiies have been the quickest to respond to this challenge. But universities, encouraged by program like the IEEE PES Scholarship Plus program, are responding as well, though they are also facing an aging workforce problem. Now something has appeared on the horizon in education that may provide a way of ramping up more rapidly to the challenge of training the next generation of engineers and skilled workers.
From October 10th to December 18th 2011 Stanford offered a free, on-line course, "Introduction to Artificial Intelligence", open to anyone, that attracted 160'000 students. The course was taught by Sebastian Thrun and Peter Norvig based on Stanford's introductory Artificial Intelligence course. Thrun led the development of the Google self-driving car. Norvig worked at NASA and is the co-author of a widely used college textbook on artifical intelligence. The term applied to this type of on-line education is massive open on-line courses (MOOCs).
There were a number of precursors. The one explicitly referenced by the Stanford instructors is the Khan Academy that offers videos to instruct anyone in a wide range of topics including arithmetic, algebra, geometry, trigonometry, calculus, probability and statistics, differential equations, Cosmology and astronomy, organic chemistry, finance and capital markets, microeconomics, macroeconomics, computer science, healthcare and medicine, drawing, programming Basics, animation, history, american Civics, and art history.
The open online course that I have watched over and over again is Open Yale's Roman Architecture given by Professor Diana E.E. Kleiner of Yale University and available for free on iTunes.
In August 2012, the online education company Coursera began offering free college courses. According to the New York Times, by January 2013, it had attracted a million users, growing at a rate outpacing even Facebook and Twitter. There are at least three other startups (Udemy, Udacity, edX) attempting to do the same thing.
The MOOC approach is getting some acceptance among traditional universites and colleges. The American Council on Education, which represents the presidents of 1800 U.S. accredited, degree-granting institutions, which include two- and four-year colleges, private and public universities, and nonprofit and for-profit entities. has recommended that colleges could grant credit for some of the free classes from Coursera.