Software Eats Education: An Audacious Undertaking

Throughout my career, I’ve been an executive at several tech companies that have revolutionized enterprise computing. I’ve also been an investor and venture capitalist (in the past and currently) focused on finding the next BIG things in tech. But I’ve also been fortunate enough to teach at MIT and Stanford, where I currently teach (during different terms) a sales management class and an ethics class at the Graduate School of Business.

I love teaching because I am able to make a difference in a student’s future. Whether I help to unlock a new concept or see a student follow her lifelong dreams, teaching and passing on knowledge has become a passion of mine.

I also recognize that education methods have not fundamentally changed in hundreds—possibly even thousands—of years. The core learning structure has always been and remains one teacher and a limited number of students. This structure reduces learning opportunities for much of the world’s population (even in first-world countries) and limits the impact of the best educators to no more than a few dozen lucky individuals a year.

But it doesn’t have to continue like this. From a business perspective, this is a supply and demand problem in that the demand for quality education is not being met by an adequate supply of learning opportunities. From a technology perspective, this is a problem that can now be solved with software. From a societal perspective, there should be alarm bells going off for everyone that this is an issue that requires our boldest ideas and brightest minds.

And that’s why we’re so excited to announce our investment in Udacity, a team and company that we’re absolutely convinced will change the world. We believe the next big disruptive trend in software will focus on education and we feel that this is the team that will lead the way.

Let’s start with what Udacity does. By leveraging the economics of the Internet, Udacity aims to democratize education by delivering world-class coursework to hundreds of thousands of students everywhere. There’s no doubt that online learning will radically shift the economics of education.  Udacity has the magic formula because they are combining their platform with their content to make learning highly interactive, targeted and instantly available to students around the world.

The company recently released an online science class that was viewed by over 230,000 students. The innovative material, high quality presentation and ease of access propelled its viral spread. The team is building on this experience as they build their plans to materially change higher education.

We see a lot of distinguished entrepreneurs, but this team stands out, starting with the CEO, Sebastian Thrun, a Stanford professor and entrepreneur. This is a team that cares deeply about changing the world and was the core team that invented the Google self-driving car. As important as that project will be, Sebastian and the team want their legacy to be about reinventing education and they understand the wide-reaching impact that this will have on our future.

There is no question in my mind that the work being done today, to leverage software to improve education, will result in a better tomorrow for people all around the world. I am delighted to be joining the board of Udacity and look forward to working with this team as they change the world. Help us spread the word.

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