Debating on Online Higher Education : Thrun and Ferguson

Debating on Online Higher Education By MilkenInstitute

By Marwa Kotb.
The video “debate on online education” questioning the coming change of higher education in trickle of online industry disruption. The debate was held at Milken Institute between two polar opposites Niall Ferguson a history professor in elite Harvard University and Professor Sebastian Thrun who took the leadership and started private organization Udacity ( few years ago. Udacity offers online degrees and university style courses.
Despite of the catastrophic facts mentioned by Ferguson there are high dropout rates in which only 5 to 10 % of first MOOC (Massive Open Online Courses) subscribers were able to finish their courses and some online courses failed to mirror the robust face-to-face classroom interaction. Yet there is universal agreement that E-Learning industry will show fast and more significant growth in the coming few years. The global self-paced E-learning market will grow at  10% per annum, to be worth a whopping $243.8 billion by 2022 (McCarthy, 2015, November 18) and the number of individuals, corporations, and institutions turning to eLearning will increase. I highly support Thrun opinions that online sectors won’t make higher education institutes campuses extinct in the future. Face to face classrooms, online and hybrid courses will all be available and none of them will demolish the other. Yet a change is expected in higher education institutes.
The major change in higher education we all foresee would start with the change in the rigid idea that universities are physical places that students will come to at one point in their lifetime to obtain certain degrees, then graduate maybe the age of 22 and will be using that knowledge for even a decade after (Selingo, 2014, September 22) .In a recent research two researcher examined the probability of computerization of 702 jobs and they concluded that 47% of the US employment is at risk (Frey& Osborne, 2013), thus colleges and universities must understand they are preparing students “for jobs do not yet exist to use technologies that have not yet invented to solve problem that we don’t even know they are problems yet (Darling-Hammond el al., 2008,p. 2)”(Merriam & Bierema, 2014,p.5). They must operate each of their campuses to be a campus for life, where everyone “can access education in small chunks throughout their lifetimes” (Selingo, 2014, September 22).They must introduce a variety of learning units fewer than four years to meet the learning needs of the future. And they must discover ways to deliver a more “rounded” educational programs at lower cost and time that is capable of integrating more career relevant skills.
As for Online sectors’ failure to deliver online courses with the same quality in campus, it occurred due to their focus on enhancing technology and trying to mirror courses at traditional universities but unfortunately in their race supporting educators and learners that are essential parties for their success, integrity and continuity of E-learning industry is still the least. I believe when a higher priority given for educators to be able master new technology, and students to be well prepared for independent learning the online industry will achieve better results.


Frey C., &Osborne M. (2013). The Future Of Employment: How Susceptible Are Jobs To Computerisation. Retrieved from

Mcarthy, J.P. Three sectors driving the multi-billion eLearning phenomenon. Taxamo. Retrieved from

Merriam, S. B., & Bierema, L. L.(2014). Adult Learning Linking Theory and Practice. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Selingo J. (2014, September 22). 3 Ways the Students of Tomorrow Will Change Higher Education. Retrieved from


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