Gracie University is the online division of the Gracie Academy.  The Gracie Academy based in Torrance, California is the U.S. home of the Gracie style of Brazilian Ju-Jitsu.  Gracie University is run by the two eldest grandsons of Helio Gracie, the founder of the Gracie style.  The Gracie name is very well known in martial arts circles, in large part due to the family’s long-standing challenge that any Gracie adult male could defeat anyone outside the family in a no-holds-barred fight.  Also, one of Helio’s sons, Royce Gracie, dominated the first few years of Ultimate Fighting Championships (Royce’s older brother Royion was a founder of the UFC).  So, there is a lot of credibility behind the claim that if you want to learn to protect yourself in an altercation, an excellent approach would be to study with someone from the Gracie family.

Gracie University has been up and running for five years, and currently has 75,000 paid subscribers around the world.  The Gracie grandsons running the program, Rener and Ryron Gracie, claim that online learning is even more effective than in-person instruction.  This is because they have carefully organized the lessons, so that there is a clear progression from each lesson to the next, and anticipated nearly every question.  All you need is a training partner, access to the online lessons, and the willingness to put a lot of effort into practicing the techniques.

One problem with online learning is certification.  How do you prove you have learned the material?  Gracie University addresses this by offering students video testing.  They demonstrate exactly what is required for each rank or belt test, and then encourage you (and your training partner) to make a U-tube video of your movements which you can send it to the Gracie Academy for evaluation.  If your score (100 less the number of mistakes you make) is satisfactory, you receive a rank promotion. 

Now, do I believe very many of the 75,000 online students will become Ju-Jitsu experts solely through the online courses?  No, not really.  I don’t think that most people will make the necessary commitment.  For example, how many people have the ability to maintain a rigorous exercise program without benefit of a personal trainer or a class to attend?

But what I think is important is that technology now enables anyone in the world to study Gracie Ju-Jitsu, or nearly anything else for that matter, without having local access to qualified teachers or schools.  This is a monumental step forward in human progress.  People anywhere around the world can become experts in any field they wish, even without having the benefit of great local schools or wealthy or educated parents. 

Khan academy

Perhaps the leading online academy in academic subjects is the Khan Academy, a non-profit school started by former investment banker Salman Khan.  With financial backing from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Khan Academy mission is to “give a world-class education to anyone anywhere for free.”

Role of the Instructor

Many traditional teachers (including Ju-Jitsu instructors) are put off by what appears to be online competition.  The Gracie brothers argue the opposite.  The effect of Gracie University will, they claim, increase global popularity for the art and will increase the demand for in-person instruction.  Sal Khan argues that the best role of the Khan Academy videos and technology is to enhance the classroom experience.  In what he calls “reverse instruction” the course lectures are contained in the videos, which the students review at night.  Then class time is available for higher value interactions and tutorials between student and teacher.

Consequences for long-term economic growth

A common refrain today is that the “new normal” for economic growth among developed countries is very low, around 1-2%.  Partly this is a consequence of the de-levering process that began with the bust of the 2000s housing boom.  But also in part it is due to a concern that technological change and innovation has slowed down.  While I am not an expert in this area, it seems to me that just the reverse is more likely to be the case.  Technological change comes from ideas which come from people, particularly educated people.  Online instruction has the potential to dramatically expand the number of educated people and therefore the number of new ideas or inventions or process improvements. 

Not only that but online education can offer a massive increase in opportunity for the less fortunate.  While it will almost surely not lead to equality of outcomes, it has the potential to dramatically even the starting blocks, and therefore promote equality of opportunity.