“The writing of history is largely a process of diversion. Most historical accounts distract attention from the secret influences behind great events.”
Frank Herbert

Chapter House Dune

Udacity Succumbing


This article about Udacity and its founder Sebastian Thrun was a fascinating read. It is impressive to read about a business leader that is not blinded by the indicators of success but looks for a deeper truth and tried to address it. However unlike the person who brought it to my attention I do not view this change as a positive “pivot” but rather as succumbing. This is the part of the text where disappointment set in:

“At the end of the day, the true value proposition of education is employment”

This is an old truth that has been recognized and challenged for some years now. Udacity was born into a reality where this truth no longer holds true (or at least not as obviously as Thrun presents it, and surely not as a “revelation”). Ironically Thrun already knows better, a truth that surfaces when he speaks of his own 5 year old son:

“In my son’s kindergarten, they’re telling us how to get him into Stanford,” he says. “By their advice, I’m doing everything wrong, because I’m trying to make him happy rather than putting him through as many piano lessons as possible.”

So which is it happiness or employment? (If you want to argue that the two are synonymous then please don’t waste my time and do so somewhere else)

What if many of the people who do not complete the courses or pass the tests are there out of … oh … curiosity? a passion to learn? what it they are not doing it for a job?

What would happen if Udacity would continue to be available to people as they seek out education in their lives?

What if instead of suddenly large streams Udacity would become another channel of education, one that challenges the foundations of the crumbling paradigms of modern day societies?

What if Udacity was able to remain present those who wish to learn for the sake of learning and do for the sake of doing?

But more importantly what is causing Udacity to succumb to dominant paradigms? I would suggest that one substantial compromise in its foundations causes this … the venture capital that went into it. Udacity can no longer do for the sake of doing, that has been undermined with a need to do for the sake of making a profit. It is also I believe a key difference between it and the not-for-profit KhanAcademy (which apparently inspired Thrun to create Udacity in the first place) who have stayed true to their path with a simply stated, clear and humble purpose of free education for all.

The irony of it all is that Udacity doesn’t need to pivot. Maybe Udacity needs to re-evaluate its attitude towards and understanding of its “failing” majority?

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