At the dawn of the commercial internet, way back in ’95 or ’96, I remember turning around to one of my colleagues and saying: “Our kids are going to be so smart.”
My job, at the time, was competitive intelligence of online services. The words “online” and “search,” which had meaning to me as early as the mid-80s, were only just gaining mass understanding.
The genesis of my comment was the newly launched Library of Congress website, and I’d been tooling around it for the last two or three hours (one of the benefits of my job was that I could waste time on the Web – and get paid for it). As one of the two largest libraries in the world, the LOC is truly a national treasure for knowledge seekers. But since it’s located in Washington, D.C., and most people aren’t able to check out books, for much of its history it has been a walled garden.
The Web changed that. Almost overnight, many of its collections were digitized and made available – for free – to anyone with a computer and dial-up connection. I was fully aware of the implications of “online” long before beginning my career in digital media in 1985, but the rollout of the National Digital Library and its contents truly astonished me.
It wasn’t the last time that I felt that way. In fact, there have been numerous occasions over the last 30 years in which technology and media have intersected to pleasantly surprise me. And it has never been the outcome, but the speed at which we reach that development that astounds me.
And last night, it happened again. The rush of adrenaline was enough to keep me awake through the night, too excited to sleep.
A few weeks ago, I began exploring MOOC’s (massive open online courses) on Udacity and Coursera. I also looked at fee-based online courses at Lynda.com. I’ve always attended Webinars or used YouTube to pick up skills here and there, but Udacity and Coursera were different. Top universities, 6-12 week intensive courses on complicated subjects. It was too good to pass up – and yes, this is truly disruptive to the current status quo.
So, I enrolled in a couple, and yesterday I received an email for my first class to start on Monday. It’s a Brown University course taught by a well-regarded professor of comparative literature, Arnold Weinstein. It’s called “The Fiction of Relationship.”
The requirements to earn a Statement of Distinction (it’s free, so no Brown credits awarded) are still tough: read 12 works of literature, write five short papers (about 2 pages apiece), one longer paper, attend 2 hours of lectures, and grade and review three works of your peers nearly every week.
I know, right? This is going to be so much fun. And I mean that.
To have access to such amazing knowledge – for free and at my own leisure – is a slice of heaven.
The Internet: Greatest. Invention. Ever.