Penn’s Silfen Forum: ‘Open Learning and the Future of Higher Education’

University of Pennsylvania President Amy Gutmann and other experts will explore online learning and what it may have in store for higher education at the Silfen University Forum at Penn on April 5.

Massive open online courses, or MOOCs, are the subject of broad discussion and debate in higher education and beyond. Thomas L. Friedman wrote in The New York Times in January that "nothing has more potential to unlock a billion more brains to solve the world’s biggest problems."

Gutmann will moderate the Forum, which includes Friedman, a New York Times columnist and three-time Pulitzer Prize winner; the Honorable Martha J. Kanter, U.S. under secretary of education; William E. Kirwan, chancellor of the University System of Maryland; and Daphne Koller, Stanford University professor and co-founder of the online learning platform Coursera, which has enrolled almost 2.8 million students and is adding about 70,000 new students weekly from around the world.

Web-based teaching and learning are pioneering a new model for higher education, with the capacity to give millions more people access to a top-level educational experience. 

“The global economy needs an ever more highly educated work force of talented people,” Gutmann said, “and one avenue to that goal may be through massive online learning, a system in which Penn has been an early leader.  MOOCs also hold great promise for helping our faculty further improve our traditional classroom learning experience.  For example, students could learn basic concepts through online coursework, freeing faculty to spend more class time on advanced concepts and discussion.  The possibilities are boundless.”

Penn is among the inaugural cohort of universities offering free online courses through Coursera, which launched in 2012.  Penn faculty have or are offering 19 courses on Coursera, from a wide range of departments, including medicine, finance, design, legal studies, nursing, ethics, computer science, health policy, math, music, engineering, poetry, pharmacology, and classics, and more than 840,000 students from around the world have registered for Penn online courses since they began. Penn's Introduction to Calculus, an online course taught by Robert Ghrist, a Penn Integrates Knowledge professor, has been recommended for credit by the American Council on Education. 

The Silfen Forum will take place from noon to 1:30 p.m., Friday, April 5, in Penn’s Irvine Auditorium, 3401 Spruce St.

Members of the news media should register with Ron Ozio at

Other attendees can register at

Additional information is available at

About the Forum:
David Silfen, a 1966 Penn alumnus, is chairman of Mayfair Management/Silfen Investment Partners LP and a senior director of The Goldman Sachs Group. He has been a Penn Trustee since 1998. He is vice chair of the Board and he serves on the Trustee Executive, Budget and Finance, Nominating and Development committees and is a former member of the Investment Board. He currently chairs the Board of Overseers of the School of Arts and Sciences.

David and his wife, Lyn, are the parents of Jane Silfen and Adam Silfen, both Penn grads. Longtime supporters of undergraduate education, in addition to the Silfen University Forum, they previously funded two Penn Integrates Knowledge (PIK) University Professorships, the Silfen Student Study Center, a term professorship and the David and Lyn Silfen Fund in the School of Arts and Sciences to support the Pilot Curriculum.

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