If you haven’t seen what’s happening in the world of online learning lately, it’s time for a refresh. 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. Online learning was seen primarily as a way to extend the traditional classroom environment to non-traditional learners.
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.
The unheard of pace of technological change and transformation over the past few years is fundamentally changing the nature of higher education. For the first time in history, access to education is no longer a question of privilege or class. In the age of the internet, suddenly, content from some of the world’s premier universities can be accessed by anyone in the world with a mobile device or computer. No matter if the student is from Nepal or Brazil; Norway or South Africa, anyone can get access to online courses in computer science, web development, entrepreneurship, Big Data, and myriads of other topics.
Traditional institutions of higher education are worried about the disruptions caused by MOOCs, and rightfully so. They are possibly facing the biggest threat to their long-tenured existence. These institutions rely on the belief that education is a commodity worth thousands of dollars a year and available only to those with means to pay for it. MOOCs are simply showing that this premise is false. Instead of paying professors’ salaries, lights in the classroom, or the multitude of expenses of running a college campus, the revolutionary idea is to democratize education and make it available to anyone at anytime for free. Why should knowledge cost anything? MOOCs are a brilliantly simply but profound recipe for massive disruption in a long-entrenched industry.
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.
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.
Udacity’s newest innovation is 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.” Instead of taking 4 years to get an undergraduate degree and coming out with $80K in debt, Udacity has teamed up with industry leaders to find what hiring managers are really looking for. Nanodegrees are project-based certificate programs that can be completed in 6-12 months for a fraction of the cost of a 4 year degree, a mere $200/month. They are currently offered in 4 areas: Front-End Web Developer, Full Stack Web Developer, Data Analyst, and iOS Developer. The return on investment is a verified Nanodegree certificate along with an industry verified project portfolio – and interview coaching and referrals to some of the most exciting places to work in the industry. What could be better than that!
The technology revolution in mobile, cloud, collaboration, and Big Data in recent years has extended to the realm of 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!