There's a very lively discussion thread about this effort on Slashdot. Here's what some people have to say:
I'm surprised the internet hasn't made us reexamine the entire nature of our higher education system. Is congregating people in one spot for four years to learn something really the best way to do it? Of course there are physical things that you need access to for a lot of classes, but we could be looking at a future where education is a lot more accessible, transparent, and open. If you could sit in on lectures and classes just because they interest you, there may be a lot more people learning things and getting exposed to knowledge they otherwise wouldn't have. You're right that there would need to be some way to certify and verify things, and that's really the main strength of the current system. I can't help but thinking there's got to be a better way.GnarlyDoug:
This is the start of education for the masses. Books are nice, but they don't convey enough information of certain types. The lectures will help go beyond that. Even barely literate people will be able to use these to learn. It will also be a huge boon to people with dyslexia and other issues. Even more important is the time-shifting aspect. Learn when you have time. Thanks to this trend a lot of people who might not have otherwise been able to get access to this type of education will now be able to do so. In time they'll probably be able to take tests as well and for very little money get a degree at their own pace and within the needs of their own life.GnarlyDoug again, responding to a comparison with broadcast television (e.g., Open University, early PBS programming, etc.):
The exciting thing about this is that it will actually allow the internet to do something really great. Provide effective, free, and high quality education to ANYONE who can get a computer and an internet connection. Which is rapidly becoming almost everybody in the world.
The fact that a handful of people said that about TV has what to say about this argument? The technologies aren't even remotely similar. Also, unlike with TV, we are already seeing that the educational possibilities are beginning to emerge on their own. It's not ivory tower speak. It's happening.GnarlyDoug again, responding to a comment about the role of books in education:
Posting content to the internet is basically free and mostly unregulated. The content is available on demand. The internet also provides a means for feedback, chatting, and community discussions about the content to instantly spring up.
Broadcasting on the airwaves is regulated by governmental monopolies and is a scarce commodity. It is regulated, censored, and horribly expensive. No ability for feedback loops or interaction.
The internet reduces the cost of transmitting, storing, and replicating all forms of information to almost zero. Education is mainly a form of information. That is why it will become a tool of education. Even if only 0.1% are interested in using it that way, it will provide that function.
... This is just the start. Soon these educational videos will include dynamic information. You can't show a heart pumping in a book. You can't show a sterling engine in operation in a book. It's static. With video you can show, well, video. These lectures won't stay just being a video of some professor. Eventually someone will start putting out educational video that is much richer in content and leverages what you can do with video. There are tons of things you can do with video that you can't do with a printed page.You can read some more 'Net reaction/regurgitation via the blogs highlighted on Techmeme.
... Thanks to the feedback loops of the internet and network effects, the best videos will be found, rated highly, and rise to the top. So the best sources of information will soon be easy to find.
The current crop of videos aren't all that important. It's what they probably portend for the future that is important. Fully dynamic, multiple approach (written, visual, auditory), interactive, free, at will education.