The Rising Prominence of MOOCs

There has been a lot of pessimism surrounding MOOC (Massive Open Online Courses), and justifiably so. It was supposed to be the next big thing. Most industries are undergoing radical disruption at unprecedented rates (thanks to Moore’s law) – so it only made sense for education to follow suit. MOOCs, in the early days, were viewed as the next step in this natural evolution, but with course completion rates only around 4%, many are beginning to question its true impact.

Although slower than expected, trailblazers in the MOOC space are starting to figure it out. Let me give an example. A popular MOOC company, Udacity, offers something called nanodegrees. They have partnered with big companies, such as Google, to offer programs that teach students the necessary skills required for the current job market. They offer these nanodegrees geared specifically towards web and mobile development, data analysis, and machine learning.

Great concept, but how do you get students to complete the program when they start? Udacity has even figured that out. They offer their programs for a monthly rate per month, half of which is refunded if the student completes the course in less than a year (most take 5-6 months). Udacity has also gone as far as recently guaranteeing that upon completion of a nanodegree, they will land you a job within 6 months or money back guarenteed.

I recently took a nanodegree course called “Tech Entrepreneur.” It constituted 5 different projects, each covering an important skill. Along the way, there were multiple resources in the form of video lectures, 1 on 1 phone meeting with a course expert, and a general discussion forum among other students. Long story short, I completed the program, but more importantly, have found myself using a lot of what I learned at University Beyond.

The implications of a steadily improving MOOC ecosystem are vast. The labor workforce is now demanding hybrid employees, who have mastery of not 1, but 2 or more relevant skills. What’s more is that some of these skills are a direct result of recent technological advances that were non-existent even a couple years ago! MOOCs offers existing employees an outlet to accumulate such skills in order to excel or even maintain their roles.

Beyond existing employees, MOOC offers a great potential for college students. Employers understand the need to hire college graduates, as about 8 in 10 employers recruit young talent to some extent. However, there seems to be a huge skills gap between what graduates have and what employers want. GPA’s are slowly starting to be a thing of the past. As of 2016, one in three companies screen graduates by GPA, which is an all-time low since the 2009 recession. It is no longer how you did on tests, but what skills you have mastered to help you do your job better in the real world that matters. Pair MOOC with work experience (which is a whole seperate discussion of its own) and the student develops a personalized agenda of what he or she needs to experience and learn in order to land the job upon graduation. Most importantly, an agenda that is in-tune with current technological and economic trends.

MOOCs are still young. However, the overall ecosystem is experiencing continued improvement, as well as increase in trust at the private market level (as Udacity recently raised a big round valuing it at $1 billion). I am sure that one day, it can serve as an alternative to traditional schooling that lacks the accessibility that MOOC offers.

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