Scratch the surface of online education, and you’re destined to run into the names of two men. The first, Salman Khan, never intended to be an education icon. Instead, he simply watched with increased interest as videos he had uploaded to YouTube to help his cousin learn math were seized upon by a world apparently eager to learn via his thoughts on the subject. By making his sideline into the non-profit Khan Academy, which now offers more than 5,000 free online lessons on an array of topics, Khan has since become a central figure in the “what should we do about education?” debate.
He also inspired the second key figure. Sebastian Thrun was a computer scientist whohelped build Google’s driverless car before seeing Salman Khan’s TED2011 presentation and deciding, pfft, autonomous driving was no challenge at all. Taking inspiration from Khan’s model, he resolved to do his part to redesign higher education, first via his computer science class at Stanford and now through Udacity, an organization that offers massive online courses.