Online learning is still in its infancy. MOOCs are sprouting every day at top colleges and universities, yet some would say the whole business has had a rocky start so far. The primary sticking point has been low completion rates: people sign up but they don’t finish.
The creators of the so-called nanodegree aim to change all that.
What is a Nanodegree?
These are short, practical series of courses with extremely specific goals: namely, training students to immediately enter the job market, usually by teaching them computer programming skills.
They usually last from six to twelve months, and are designed to fit into schedules of working people, just like most online learning programs.
The difference: a nanodegree is shorter and extremely specific in terms of objectives. Students learn “Front End Web Development”, for example. And of course, when compared to a master’s degree, a nanodegree is much cheaper.
How Nanodegrees are Developed
The other difference (and this the important one): nanodegrees are developed in conjunction with real businesses who desperately need employees with the skills covered in nanodegree programs.
Think of nanodegrees as tech training, only the student pays rather than the employer. With highly specific training that’s actually put together by industry partners like AT&T, nanodegrees are thought to be the key to a guaranteed job.
Udacity is a Leader in Nanodegrees
You can’t discuss nanodegrees without mentioning online educator Udacity. They are, in fact, the course provider that offers the promise of employment with big companies. They are also the company who has partnered with AT&T and other top names in tech, who use Udacity for training and developing their work forces:
- Capital One
And of course these are the companies where Udacity graduates get their jobs. The Udacity website features a liberal sprinkling of short bios on graduates and their wonderful new jobs at these companies.
Students pay only $200 per month, and if they complete within a year they get a 50 percent tuition refund. Enrolling in Udacity’s Nanodegree Plus program ($300 per month) offers the job guarantee: get a job in six month, guaranteed.
What Types of Nanodegrees are There?
We’ll stick with using Udacity as an example of the nanodegree, since they’re pretty much the inventors and sole proprietors of this very new concept. There are other companies offering MOOCs, however, such as Coursera and edX. But only Udacity has formed the strong allegiances with the likes of Google and AT&T.
In fact, some of Udacity’s programs are co-created with Google (and others). Here are some examples:
- Full Stack Web Developer. Co-created with Amazon Web Services, GitHub, AT&T, and Google
- Android Developer. By Google.
- iOS Developer. By AT&T and lyft
- Data Analyst. By Facebook, Mongo DB, and Zipfian Academy
- Senior Web Developer. By Google
- Front-End Web Developer. By Google, AT&T, GitHub, and Hack Reactor
- Machine Learning Engineer. By Google
- Self-Driving Car Engineer. Coming soon.
As you can see from Udacity’s nanodegree offerings, many programs are for mid-level professionals. Indeed, many of they programs have prerequisites like programming experience, knowledge of HTML, and more. To cover those requirements, students may offer up real world experience or enroll in any number of Udacity’s free basic-level courses.
Some of the most popular (and free) courses include:
- A/B Testing
- Intro to HTML and CSS
- Deep Learning
- Web Accessibility
- Software Development Process
As you can probably tell from these course offerings, Udacity is focusing on students who may already have jobs and a degree. These students feel the need to learn more and upgrade their skills in order to move up the career ladder.
But Why Would Companies Offer a Guaranteed Job?
A promised job is the holy grail of any student, but how can it be possible? Colleges and universities are firmly reprimanded, even prosecuted when they make such claims. Nobody can guarantee a job except the employers themselves.
And that’s exactly what you have with nanodegrees.
Since many are indeed created in partnership with the actual companies that do the hiring, it’s safe for those who offer nanodegrees to promise jobs.
Think of it this way: if you were a tech company (or one with a large tech component like AT&T), and people paid you money to participate in your in-house training, wouldn’t you want to hire those who successfully completed? It’s an arrangement bordering on genius level for its practicality and efficiency.
There is actually a very dire need for highly trained workers, especially in the software development industry. There is a shockingly wide skills gap in the US work force, and it’s not just wide…it’s widening. As a result, employers have reported that it’s hard to find enough skilled workers.
That may explain why companies like AT&T are stepping up to the plate to do something about it.
AT&T is a Pioneer in Online Education
AT&T invested $1.5 million in Udacity’s software program in 2014, and is offering 1,200 scholarships to students who enroll in Udacity’s nanodegree programs. Upon completion, graduates qualify for entry-level positions at the communications giant.
The company was already considered a pioneer in online learning. This wasn’t their first partnership with Udacity, either. The previous year, in 2013, they worked with Udacity and Georgia Tech to offer the very first totally online and accredited Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) master’s degree: a Master of Science in Computer Science.
Even though MOOCs have had a rocky start so far, with disappointing completion rates, AT&T’s version is considered to be a great success with over 2,200 student in that program.
Many hoped MOOCs in general would create a democratizing revolution in post-secondary education, but so far one developed by a corporation has seen the greatest success!
What is this telling us? It means that it’s entirely possible that the corporate world may do a better job at restructuring education, and with low cost as well as guaranteed jobs in the mix, it looks like it’s a winning strategy for everyone involved, including the students.
Some Final Thoughts
Whatever the case may be, Udacity might just be onto something in focusing on partnering with business. They’re combining the best of traditional educational practices with the basic aspects of solid tech training that’s industry-driven.
With that formula, it’s easier to see how they can offer guaranteed jobs in a market that’s made more competitive by global outsourcing, the remote workforce, and fresh young crops of motivated individuals eager to learn programming to move up in the world.