A Dot-Com Entrepreneur's Ambition: Drive Education Costs to Zero - Technology - The Chronicle of Higher Education
"Michael J. Saylor was early to the free online-education market. In 2000, Mr. Saylor, then a dot-com billionaire as chief executive of a business-intelligence company called MicroStrategy, promised to give $100-million to open a new Web portal that would provide quality education for the masses at no charge. That plan got derailed, though, when he lost $6-billion of his fortune in a single day of stock trading during a U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission investigation. The online-university project was sidelined. These days, Mr. Saylor is back. Not only has he rebuilt MicroStrategy, but in the past few years he has also channeled his still-prodigious wealth into changing higher education. He compares traditional teaching to 'giving people thousands of rubber mallets and asking them to drill a hole through a mountain.' He said, 'We need nitroglycerine.' His 'nitroglycerine' is Saylor.org, a nonprofit online university he backs as sole trustee of the Saylor Foundation. Saylor's model is to offer students a free, one-stop shop for self-paced college courses. Saylor.org aggregates free content offered by open-source providers like MIT OpenCourseWare and Open Yale Courses, and groups it so that students can pursue a continuous sequence of courses in a major. The model takes a different approach than that of high-profile providers of massive open online courses, or MOOC's, mainly in its role as an aggregator of online content into comprehensive courses. Instead of following a professor through a series of video lectures and peer-graded exercises on Coursera, for example, students in Saylor courses read, listen to, and watch material from different sources and grade themselves using answer keys. A unit in a Saylor world-history course, for instance, includes a video lecture from a Harvard professor, content written by academics the foundation hires, excerpts from textbooks, and free quizzes from Pearson Education. Saylor.org encourages students to earn credit for its 267 courses via outside accreditors, many of which are recognized by major colleges. Eventually, Mr. Saylor hopes, the site will include courses for all levels of education, kindergarten through college, and serve students around the world... His views can be found in his recent best-selling book, The Mobile Wave: How Mobile Intelligence Will Change Everything... For now, though, Saylor.org does not provide "massive" open online courses—it reaches only a small audience compared with larger online players like Coursera, edX, and Udacity. Those MOOC providers have managed to attract hundreds of thousands of students, pulling in interest because of media attention and the elite universities offering the courses. Saylor has experimented with different platforms; for now, most of its traffic comes from iTunes U, Apple's free online platform for educational materials. The foundation has posted 21 of its courses there since May, and three of its courses are posted on Google's new open-source platform, Course Builder, said Sean Connor, the foundation's community-engagement manager..."