Until about 3 years ago online learning was an interesting new phenomenon that received a few nods and glances from traditional learners. But for the most part it was not a real player in the educational market. More and more U.S. universities were experimenting with online courses, but these were seen as an extension of the classroom learning environment.
That all changed in the Fall of 2011 when two Google computer scientists and Stanford professors, Sebastian Thrun and Peter Norvig, decided to make their artificial intelligence course available online. 160,000 people from around the world signed up. The “massive open online course” was underway. The results of the Stanford AI course became known as Udacity. In early 2012 Coursera came online, also launched by two Stanford professors, and in the spring of 2012 MIT and Harvard teamed up to offer edX, a rebranding and redesign of MIT’s already existent OpenCourseWare initiative. 2012 became known as the year of the MOOC. Suddenly, almost out of nowhere, the fledgling world of online learning went viral and received a major boost of credibility and financial backing.
This recent democratization of education has meant that thousands of students with nothing more than an online connection can now receive free access to course content in computer science, web development, entrepreneurship, Big Data, and myriads of other topics.
Udacity, along with its range of new online courses in mobile and web development, Big Data, machine learning, computer engineering, and startup building, continues to stretch the boundaries of traditional education. This fall Udacity, in collaboration with AT&T and Georgia Institute of Technology, rolled out a fully accredited M.S. online degree in computer science. The one of its kind program will be offered in a MOOC format. What’s more, total program cost is expected to be less than $7000 – a significant bargain, considering the soaring costs of education.
But Udacity’s talent for educational disruption hasn’t stopped with innovative and creative technology online offerings, nor with its low cost M.S. degree. The “audacious” online education portal’s latest project involves recasting the whole 4 year degree into something more user-friendly and marketable. Introducing the Nanodegree! This is defined as a “new type of credential” that focuses on matching students with “peers and advisors on projects approved by leading employers as the critical indicators of job-readiness.” The 4 current offerings are Front-End Web Developer, Full Stack Web Developer, Data Analyst, and iOS Developer. Each nanodegree requires 10 hours minimum per week for 9-12 months at a cost of $200/month. The return on investment is a verified Nanodegree certificate along with an industry verified project portfolio – entry points to a good paying tech job that you’ll enjoy.
There has been a lot of buzz over the past year about MOOCs as the enablers of major (and much needed!) disruptions in higher education. There is no consensus on the topic yet, but what’s clear is that the business model of traditional colleges and universities is not sustainable. Soaring education costs, crushing student loan debt, the inability of many new grads to find jobs . . . all mean that colleges and universities are being forced to rethink their approach. If they don’t do something, and do it quickly, analysts see a death spiral of foreclosures and bankruptcies in store for the future of higher education institutions. In an article appearing in the Economist, Jim Lerman of Kean University in New Jersey, is quoted as saying that the most vulnerable schools are the “middle-tier institutions, which produce America’s teachers, middle managers and administrators,” which he suggests could be replaced by online courses.
The technology revolution in mobile, cloud, collaboration, and Big Data in recent years has extended to education. Now anyone with a smartphone or computer can take free online courses and get free access to information that once was the privileged domain of the few. What’s more, MOOCs and Nanodegrees are the perfect match for busy startup owners, entrepreneurs, and corporate executives who need to keep their skills relevant, but don’t have time to step foot into a traditional classroom. MOOC platforms like Udacity are pioneering new ground by bringing quality technology education to anyone, anywhere, and at anytime. Perhaps you see a Data Analyst Nanodegree in your future!