By: JACK M.
As a technology, the Internet is about half a century old, but the World Wide Web, which is sometimes inaccurately assumed to be synonymous with the Internet, has only been around for a generation or so. And today’s Web, with its ever-expanding plethora of browsers, search engines, blogs, podcasts, citizen journalism, apps and social media tools, has arguably had no less profound an effect on society and culture than did Gutenberg’s printing press or, for that matter, the invention of writing itself did in their day.
The worlds of media, entertainment, communication, commerce, banking and publishing have all gone through – and continue to go through – unparalleled and seemingly irreversible change. And now education has embraced the World Wide Web. What are known as Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) have changed the profile of today’s education and the conventional learning environment. Who gets access to education, how it’s delivered, what it costs, how long it takes and where it takes place are changing, and changing rapidly.
MOOCs have only been around for about a decade or so, but they have already garnered the attention of traditional universities, employers and business, and perhaps most importantly, they have the attention of students and would-be students. Taken entirely online, they cater to a broad spectrum of users, from individuals who are simply interested in brushing up on their math skills or perhaps learning a foreign language, to traditional K-12 studies, to university-level courses. Many MOOCs are operated as non-profits and many are run as for-profit businesses. But the focus of this article is the educational resource of Udacity, a for-profit company that offers what it calls “Nanodegrees” in high-tech subjects like web development, programming and game design. There are a dozen different Nanodegrees that are offered, and you can check them out here.
And Udacity has just recently introduced what it calls its “Nanodegree Plus” lineup. Four of the twelve programs offered – Senior Web Developer, Android Developer, iOS Developer and Machine Learning – are now designated as “Nanodegree Plus” programs. Each program takes from six to 12 months to complete. The tuition is $299 per month, but compared to the costs of a traditional college education, it’s probably a bargain.
But here’s the best part: if, after successful completion of the approved course of study, you haven’t found gainful employment in your field within six months and you abide by the Terms and Conditions, you get your tuition completely refunded (although it seems that this is only being offered presently to U.S. students, but Udacity hopes to expand this to other jurisdictions in the near future). That’s how confident Udacity is of its courseware and the demand for its graduates. And the catch? Other than the previously-mentioned Terms and Conditions, there doesn’t seem to be any. As Udacity’s founder, Sebastian Thrun said in an interview with USA Today, “I think everyone should offer this. It will keep us honest. Because part of our brand proposition is, spend a little money with us and you’ll find a job. My guess is we’ll place between 70 and 80 per cent. It’s an experiment, one we feel confident about.”
If, after successful completion of the approved “Nanodegree Plus” course of study, you haven’t found gainful employment in your field within six months, you get your tuition completely refunded.
And the benefits don’t end with the relatively cheap tuition fees and guarantee of a job. The courses are open to all, although there are some prerequisites which are well-explained on the company’s website. You can proceed at your own pace, but you should probably expect to put in between 10 and 20 hours of study time a week. Because you take the entire course online, there are no accommodation or travel expenses. Being a part of the Udacity community, there are many resources available, such as coaching, discussion forums and a lively blogging fraternity. And there are career counselling and assistance facilities available.
Udacity has only been around for a little over four years, but its founder, German-born Sebastian Thrun – a former Stanford computer science professor, winner of the 2012 Smithsonian American Ingenuity Award and a one-time key player at Google – seems to have latched onto a winning formula. The courses’ contents have been designed with input from some of the largest high-tech companies around, including Google, AT&T and Facebook, so graduates will be armed not only with theoretical knowledge, but with the practical skills that today’s organizations and corporations are looking for.
Even if you decide to take one of Udacity’s regular “Nanodegree” programs, it’s still probably worth looking into. They cost less than the “Nanodegree Plus” programs ($199 per month, instead of $299), and based on the U.S. Department of Labor’s statistics, careers in Information Technology will continue to be very much in demand well into the future. And if you still want to pursue the more traditional educational route, Georgia Tech is now offering a Master’s degree in computer science through Udacity’s online platform. If you want to know more about Udacity, you can check out its FAQ.