2U founder discusses online learning trends

2U co-founder and CEO Chip Paucek gave a lecture about trends in online education in Rockefeller Center on Friday afternoon.

2U co-founder and CEO Chip Paucek discussed trends in online education and his experience developing his educational company at the Portman Lecture on the Spirit of Entrepreneurship last Friday in the Rockefeller Center. Formerly called 2tor, 2U partners with educational institutions to deliver graduate and undergraduate for-credit programs online.

2U offers funding, an online learning platform and student recruitment services to partner universities, helping them with faculty appointments, intellectual property and admissions.

“We bring as much of the university to bear online as possible,” Paucek said.

2U’s approach to online education focuses on providing high-quality content, an interactive and inter-personal online classroom environment and a social network to connect students with regional mentors in degree programs that require field training.

Students enrolled in classes offered through partner institutions receive diplomas and degrees identical to those received by students who take on-campus courses, Paucek said.

Paucek said that 2U differs from MOOCs, for-profit institutions like the University of Phoenix, and other online programs, because he believes that these programs often do not connect to students in a meaningful way, with class sizes that are too large or a system that lacks the ability to coordinate feedback with professors.

While MOOCs begin their semesters with high numbers of enrolled students, the classes often fail to maintain student participation, he said. One Duke University bioelectricity MOOC had less than 3 percent of subscribers attempt to complete the final exam, Paucek said.

“Most important to 2U is not how many students are enrolled, but how they’re doing,” Paucek said.

To date, no Dartmouth courses are available through edX, Coursera or Udacity, three major online platforms that stream University courses. Harvard University, Brown University, Columbia University and Stanford University all offer courses through one or more of these sites.

College President-Elect Philip Hanlon ’77 currently serves on Coursera’s Advisory Board.

Paucek reflected on the role that Dartmouth can play in online education.

“Online education will continue to fundamentally alter all forms of education,” Paucek said. “Dartmouth is a pretty incredible institution, and if Dartmouth applied the same rigor the online environment, it could have an equally compelling online experience.”

Currently, Duke University, Emory University, Northwestern University and Washington University in St. Louis offer for-credit undergraduate classes through 2U’s platform, and American University, George Washington University, Georgetown University, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, University of Southern California and WashU use 2U to offer graduate degree programs.

2U was named one of 10 startups “changing the world” by Forbes Magazine in 2012, and was the only educational company on the list.

Ben Schifberg ’13, who attended the lecture, said that while he had heard about the problems associated with MOOCs and for-profit institutions, he had not heard about companies like 2U,

“There’s still a lot of skepticism [toward online education], and I think it’s justified,” Schifberg said. “The fact that you’re getting a degree from the institution and it’s not differentiated makes it much more meaningful.”

Daniel Akinola-Odusola ’13 questioned if a program like 2U would work at the College.

“How is Dartmouth going to implement this?” Akinola-Odusola said. “Will it ever work for an Ivy League school?”

Paucek majored in political communication at GWU and first became involved in educational ventures when he founded the Cerebellum Corporation shortly after he graduated.

Paucek has worked with two other venture companies and a political campaign over his professional career. He said he hoped undergraduates would leave his talk reflecting on what constitutes quality online education and consider pursuing unconventional career paths

“Learn everything you can while you’re here, and then when you’re out, blaze your own trail,” Paucek said.

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