Online Education and Silicon Valley

I’ve been following the discussion around online education and the challenge presented by MOOCs to traditional universities; you can’t go a day without stumbling across a post like this one.

I’ve noticed this particular feature of the conversation: Among the people who most enthusiastically champion MOOCs are entrepreneurs and Silicon Valley investors who are excited about the prospects of disrupting education and who disparage universities and colleges as bloated and stultifying, mere “credential-awarding” institutions. Many of these very same people have not one but multiple “credentials” from brand name institutions(e.g., Peter Thiel).

And yet, imagine two 24 year-olds showing up on Sand Hill Road: a largely self-taught, incredibly smart kid from Wisconsin who attended his local community college and a “credentialed” but less talented graduate of Stanford with a degree in Symbolic Systems. Who would be more likely to get funding?

Fair or not, we still have incredibly powerful biases towards people with credentials, and especially those with luxury-brand credentials (Harvard, Princeton, Yale, Stanford, MIT, CalTech & Cal). It’s not at all clear to me that MOOCs will change those biases, even among the people who champion them the most.


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