Online education can also leverage the "flipped classroom" technique used by a few innovative educators, Thrun said. Students watch lectures on their own so that teachers can spend their time and energy helping students solve problems.
Many of his online students have written to share their stories with Thrun. One student told of finishing online assignments in between mortar and rocket attacks in Afghanistan. Another described herself as a single mother of two young children who suffered from both job and family worries.
"I took the midterm this weekend, mostly while holding a teething infant," said the anonymous mother. "None of my other issues have gone away. But I feel more determined than ever to see this through … for myself."