Alumni Spotlight

Eric Coates, MA ’09

I grew up in a small rural town in England during the lean postwar years. Our education molded us mainly for manual work on the land. Having decided at the age of 15 that farming was not for me, I became an apprentice electrician and fortunately worked with a singularly helpful foreman who was to change my life. He taught me the practical skills of the job, treated me as one of his family and encouraged me to study at night school. 

“I worked for the next 16 years as a master technician and manager in a national TV hire company. This was followed by 17 years teaching electronics, where I learned that education is a two-way process: If the teacher is willing to learn as much from his students as they learn from him, then it works.

 “At the age of 60, I had a chance to take the degree that I had never found the time for throughout my 44 years of work; not in education but in web technology. After graduating, my aim was to combine my electronics teaching with web technology, and so I created a small website,

 “Online learning was fast becoming mainstream, and nowhere more so than in Silicon Valley. So, in 2009, at the age of 63, I applied to become one of Stanford’s oldest students. I wanted to learn in an international environment, and at Stanford I certainly did, as about half of my fellow classmates studying for a master’s in Learning, Design and Technology were from outside the United States.

 “So began the most amazing year that got more amazing practically every day. I was able to take advantage of Stanford’s wonderful policy of allowing students to shop around for courses, and I chose topics that were both informative and enjoyable. 

“Without doubt the most enduring memories of my year at Stanford are:

wonderful friendships with amazing people, both faculty and classmates
being wildly applauded after reading Native American ghost stories aloud to the class
learning how to write code in a computer science class
reciting Shakespeare sonnets to the trees for a voice training class
being invited to a Mexican Christmas party
and even breakfasting with astronauts at NASA!

Oh, and of course, the educational stuff at CERAS, where I learned the needs and don’t-needs of online education.

 “Since my return to England, my wife and I have welcomed Stanford friends from Japan to the UK, met up with Stanford faculty in London and Oxford and even helped with evaluating the work of students who followed us in the wonderful LDT program. 

“My year at Stanford has enabled my once-small website project to grow into one of the web’s largest and most respected sources of electronics information. Today, it is used by approximately one-third of a million teachers and students every month from Australia to Zimbabwe and from China to the Faroe Islands, and is still growing.

“Thank you, Stanford — from the world (and Eric Coates).”

Eric Coates earned an M.A. in 2009 in Learning, Design and Technology. He is webmaster and content author for