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Online learning resources for the small business – part 2

In yesterday’s post we kicked off a new series on MOOCs or short for Massive Open Online Courses. In case you don’t recall the flurry of innovation that happened in this area almost 3 years ago, it’s quite a story. The beginnings of something unprecedented in online education started in the Fall of 2011 when over 160,000  people from around the globe signed up for a course on the topic of artificial intelligence, offered by two Google computer scientists, Sebastian Thrun and Peter Norvig. The course was organized through Thrun’s start-up called Know Labs (now Udacity). Because of the huge appeal of this initial Udacity AI course, two Stanford University computer scientists launched Coursera in January 2012 with a class each in machine learning and databases. The rest is history!

Suddenly, almost overnight the online learning revolution was launched as MIT also got onboard and expanded it’s already existing OpenCourseWare initiative into a new platform called MITx, which it then reconfigured through collaboration with Harvard in the spring of 2012. That startup was rebranded as edX, and grew rapidly thereafter as other major research institutions like UC Berkeley and University of Texas joined the initiative.


So, as stated in yesterday’s introduction, we want to catchup with what’s new in this fascinating market and see what promise it holds for providing ongoing educational opportunities to the busy entrepreneur, startup owner, and business leader.


As the initiator of this new educational revolution, Udacity is probably one of the best known players in the MOOC space. The visionary dimensions of this firm have continued unabated over the past three years as it has rolled out an impressive range of new courses in computer science, web development, entrepreneurship, Big Data, and more. One of its signature courses is Intro to Computer Science, which links theory with praxis by having students build an actual search engine using Python; the course was recently revised to also include the addition of a social network component. Another signature course from Udacity is How to Build a Startup, taught by Steve Blank, a Silicon-Valley serial entrepreneur, who co-founded the Lean Startup methodology. The class is a big draw for those desiring an insider perspective on the latest approaches to building a startup from scratch.

A major question in the MOOC industry has been how to incentivize learning when courses are offered on such a massive scale, and usually for free. In other words, it’s nice to take a course with 150,000 other online learners, but how do you certify your learning once you finish it? Udacity has continued to pioneer in this market by offering a number of certification options. Udacity’s original model was to offer courses free of charge and to provide those students who finished the course with a certificate to recognize their effort. However, the free courseware certificates are being phased out as Udacity has shifted to charging a modest fee for a verified certification process on all of its courses. The courses range in price from $150-200 per month depending on level of difficulty. While the courseware can still be viewed for free, there are advantages to the paid course option. Among other things, paid courses offer project planning advice as well as a personal coach to help provide guidance through the course. The capstone of the paid course is a final project that puts all the learned content to use. Following this stage of the course, students are required to have an exit interview that Udacity then uses to issue a verified certificate of accomplishment, which in turn is recognized by leading tech employers.

Udacity is also breaking new ground in making advanced technology education available on a massive scale, and for credit! Beginning in the Fall of 2014 the platform will offer the first fully accredited online MS in Computer Science through collaboration with Georgia Institute of Technology. This will provide a new possibility for students from around the world to achieve their dreams by earning an accredited Master’s degree in Computer Science from a U.S. institution online, with courses delivered through the Udacity platform. Total cost for the program is expected to be less than $7000 – an amazing bargain considering the rising cost of education!


Exciting new opportunities are opening up in the world of online learning. Busy professionals – whether the entrepreneur, small business owner, or seasoned corporate executive – can now learn new technology skills from the experts, and without stepping foot in a classroom. MOOC platforms like Udacity are pioneering new ground by bringing quality technology education to anyone, anywhere, at anytime. Perhaps you see a course in Computer Science or Big Data in your future!

About Jeffrey Walker

Jeff is a business development consultant who specializes in helping businesses grow through technology innovations and solutions. He holds multiple master’s degrees from institutions such as Andrews University and Columbia University, and leverages this background towards empowering people in today’s digital world. He currently works as a research specialist for a Fortune 100 firm in Boston. When not writing on the latest technology trends, Jeff runs a robotics startup called virtupresence.com, along with oversight and leadership of startuplabs.co - an emerging market assistance company that helps businesses grow through innovation.