In late September, as workers applied joint compound to new office walls, hoodie-clad colleagues who had just met were working together on deadline. Film editors, code-writing interns and “edX fellows” — grad students and postdocs versed in online education — were translating videotaped lectures into MOOCs, or massive open online courses. As if anyone needed reminding, a row of aqua Post-its gave the dates the courses would “go live.”
The paint is barely dry, yet edX, the nonprofit start-up from Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, has 370,000 students this fall in its first official courses. That’s nothing. Coursera, founded just last January, has reached more than 1.7 million — growing “faster than Facebook,” boasts Andrew Ng, on leave from Stanford to run his for-profit MOOC provider.
“This has caught all of us by surprise,” says David Stavens, who formed a company called Udacity with Sebastian Thrun and Michael Sokolsky after more than 150,000 signed up for Dr. Thrun’s “Introduction to Artificial Intelligence” last fall, starting the revolution that has higher education gasping. A year ago, he marvels, “we were three guys in Sebastian’s living room and now we have 40 employees full time.”
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