Free Online Education is Leveling the Playing Field for Economically Challenged Communities


What if these women were watching a lecture by a professor from MIT or Harvard?? Its now a reality…

Now that opensource thinking has proliferated the technology space, a whole slew of products have emerged. Now all you need is an internet connection of some sort, a pair headphones and a phone with video capability and suddenly a person from Somalia or an innercity kid from Nairobi or South Central Los Angeles can be educated  in the same class by a professor from Harvard.

Several years ago, MIT had decided to put all their courses up for free on something called OpenCourseware (OCW). I didn’t particularly enjoy the material on there, but I soon realized I was in the minority. During my travels, I came across several people from around the world, particularly parts where a lack of financial resources and good universities abounds, who had successfully used the material and even learned it better than me.

Since then, several others have emerged that can run the gamut of education from grade school (the Khan Academy, TED-Ed) to university education (EdX, the new MIT-Harvard initiative to replace OCW,  Coursera from Stanford, Udacity), and beyond (Udemy).

I’m slowly wading my way through all the different programs, and trying to figure out what works for me. But its super cool that finally the developing world has almost equal access to anyone else anywhere else. Hurrah to the future of education. Now if we can just get more women access to this, and we will see the world change for the better.

TEDWeekends: TED innovates yet again to stay relevant

(above) TED curator and CEO, Chris Anderson addresses an eager crowd at the TED Talent Search in Amsterdam (photo credit: James Duncan Davidson)

TED continues to impress me with how they are constantly innovating to make themselves, particularly their TEDTalks interesting, accessible, and most importantly, relevant. They simply won’t let anyone forget about them. At once ubiquitous, yet growing, and evolving in new ways and markets, they won’t stoop to regular advertising; rather they have expanded viewership through developing new packaging, forging strong partnerships, relying on their high quality product (or TEDTalks) and a constant innovation engine that revs hard to keep them fresh.

If you think about it, its pretty amazing what they have accomplished in the past ten years!!

(Need something to contrast it to?? Try TEDMED, a sister conference created by the same parent and sold at the same time that TED was, but to a different group of people. Never heard of them?? You aren’t the only one…)

Somewhere around circa 2001, TED was sold by Founder Richard Saul Wurman to British Publishing genius Chris Anderson (or atleast his non-profit called the Sapling Foundation), and from there its growth finally became more publicly visible. Since then, we’ve seen all kinds of things develop from the new group – first changing the way conferences are done by delivering consistent, high quality user experiences in a specific format. The content was filmed, packaged and published online at, a website that in and of itself keeps evolving to be better and better, and is the real heart of the organization (and some might argue, the real engine behind its success).

Offshoots soon developed over time, each of which has had their own set of iterations…like (not in order) the TEDBookClub, TEDBooks, the TEDPrize (which has also had a few iterations), the TEDFellows program, and TEDx…all of this, while they expanded to have another permanent regular TEDGlobal Conference, and the rare move to the Developing World, first to TEDAfrica in 2007 and TEDIndia in 2009. Themed mini-conferences began as well – TEDYouth and TEDWomen, which quickly were embraced and adopted by the TEDx movement.

And then to reach an even greater audience, started their Open Translation Project, that brought greater international involvement, and made the talks relevant to increasing masses of people from outside the English speaking world.

Soon we could see online curated bits all over the place — on TV, and even on Netflix. And they even remade their content to be teacher-friendly, so that a whole new demographic could start viewing and learning from TEDTalks — children — in a new initiative called TED-ED.

Most recently, TED has paired up with the Huffington Post to create curated weekend content called TEDWeekends. The talks are still the same, but the hope is to reach an even greater audience through a different packaging mechanism. Similar to the Netflix TED packs, TEDWeekends features several TEDtalks under a single enticing topic, with a narrative running through it that ties them together. Its just a new way to increase viewership. Viewership on the talks keep increasing; their twitter and blog followers also keep going up.

Their outreach team is brilliant! Even as TEDx has (some might argue) washed down the TED brand, you can’t seem to get away from them. Check out the various TED products and keep your eye on the organization. They are definitely a model for organizations struggling to stay relevant and fresh.