Not too far in the future, students may be faced with an entirely different set of choices than they do today. No longer might college or career straight after high school graduation be the two only and divergent paths in front of them. No longer may a four-to-six-year commitment to a highly esteemed institution be the fastest way to a fruitful career or a rich network.
With online education quickly gaining momentum, the emergence of massive open online courses (MOOCs) is not only shaking up higher education to the core -- its value, its status, its cost -- the movement is also changing how young people envision their education and their future.
Sebastian Thrun, whose free, online artificial intelligence class for Stanford last year enrolled more than 175,000 people and launched the MOOC movement, foresees a radically different future for students. Thrun, who founded Google X, the incubator for projects like the Google self-driving car and Google Glass, co-founded Udacity, a free online school that offers higher ed classes computer science classes -- everything from Programming Languages to How to Build a Startup.
"Right now you go to college for four, six, seven years, and it's a big commitment over a long period of time," Thrun said in an interview earlier this week, which will be shown in an upcoming PBS Newshour story. "But in the future, learning will be lifelong, and it will happen in very small chunks. If you have an interest, a problem, if you need a skill, you'll go find it and learn it. Things like degrees and classes and so on, will be replaced by entire sequences of achievements in the learning space but also in the kinds of things we can do in the project space."
Thrun believes that some kids may not even have to graduate from high school -- especially if they know from an early age that they're interested in a field like engineering. "Probably at the of 13 or 14, they’re already great at engineering, they’re proficient on different systems and they're able to demonstrate it."