This semester, Coursekit, an academic social network of sorts that gives teachers and students a way to communicate outside of class, tried a little experiment from the Peter Thiel school of thought.
Coursekit founder Joseph Cohen, a Wharton drop-out and TechStars New York alum, was already familiar with the work of Aswath Damodaran, a professor at NYU’s Stern School of Business with a big academic following. So last year, he cold-emailed Mr. Damodaran to encourage him to join Coursekit’s pilot program. “I don’t think he was looking [for a solution like] Coursekit,” Mr. Cohen told Betabeat by Gchat. “But when he saw what it could do…he and I really hit it off.”
This semester, Mr. Damodaran decided to take it one step further and offer both his Corporate Finance and Valuation classes to anyone around the world, for free*. Considering that an MBA from NYU-Stern costs $100,894 for residents (with a “recommended annual budget of $82,867), we’d say that’s a pretty good deal. (*Beer pong networking sessions with the future 1 percent not included.)
The first lecture started Monday, said Mr. Cohen. Without any press, almost 1,800 students signed up from 40 countries, representing six continents. “I believe in a future where you don’t need to go to school to get an ‘education.’ This is a taste of that,” he added.
On his blog, Musings on Markets, Mr. Damodaran called it, “a small challenge to the ‘university’ business model.” (The scare quotes are his). “For hundreds of years, we (as consumers) have had no choice. Universities have operated with little competition and substantial collusion,” he writes.
“But I think that the game is changing, as technology increasingly undercuts the barriers to entry to this business. I am not just talking about online universities (which, for the most part, have gone for the low hanging fruit) or the experiments in online learning from MIT, Stanford and other universities. These are evolutionary changes that build on the university system and don’t challenge it. I am talking about a whole group of young companies that have made their presence felt by offering new tools for delivering class content and learning. I am convinced that the education market is going to be upended in the next decade and that the new model is going to do to universities what Amazon has done to brick and mortar retailers.”
Unlike Coursekit competitor/nemesis Blackboard, a clunky closed-off system Betabeat first used back in 2006 during our own stint at an NYU grad school, the lectures and content will stay up accessible to all on line.
In a message to students, Mr. Damodaran said, “I want to make this class the very best class you have ever had (not just online but ever).” But he did offer a conciliatory note to his NYU employers:
“Just to be clear, my first obligation is to the students in my MBA classes and I will not stint or compromise on that obligation, but I view delivering a great learning experience to those taking the class online as a close second. Note also that you will not get any credit from NYU for taking this class.”
Sort of puts the question of whether you’re getting an MBA for the knowledge or the connections in stark contrast, doesn’t it?