Nanodegrees: A Better Bridge Between Education and Jobs?

There has been a rapid increase in the number and diversity of high quality skills training courses and programs available from new generation online providers.  While their business models vary, the rapidly improving polish and quality of the user experiences of many of these offerings attest, at least in part, to their ability attract impressive financial support (e.g., Udemy raised $32M in May and Lynda landed over $100M in 2013).

This segment of the education sector continues to attract a great deal of attention from early stage capital sources (see, for example, this terrific interactive graphic the folks at Marketplace put together to help convey the amount and areas of recent financial investments in the sector).

Udacity has also entered this segment of the education sector with a newly launched initiative dubbed “Nanodegrees.”   Udacity has teamed with companies to develop programs of online study to suit two groups of customers: individuals looking for training to get a job, and companies looking for talented workers with specific skill sets.     Initial reaction has been generally positive as seen in this glowing assessment published by the NYT.

I took the opportunity of a two-week no-risk trial offer from Udacity to take a test ride on one of their partner company offerings.  The specific course I surveyed was on Hadoop (a popular open source software framework developed specifically for distributed computing environments).  The content production values were high but the content itself seemed to still be a work in progress (there were, in fact, a large number of comments complaining about the cost of the course compared to similar offerings).  I suspect the partner company and Udacity will readily address these issues as the overall platform and surrounding services are impressive.

These new generation enterprises compete with — and are pushing — a host of traditional occupational training providers such as training institutes, community colleges, professional societies, and trade associations.   Traditional occupational educational enterprises have been offering short-form job-oriented educational programs and credentials for decades and may soon be re-branding these as nanodegrees.

Regardless of who wins, this digital gold rush in occupational and professional education seems certain to build more and better bridges between education and jobs.   I am hopeful that the innovation inherent in a next generation approach to a long-standing challenge will result in rapid improvement in the coming years.