It appears that Udacity, one of the early MOOCs, founded by Sebastian Thrun, has found a profitable model based on vocational training. When the MOOCs started out the assumed model was the college course which made total sense with respect to attracting university partners and investment dollars. What a frenzy they created 3-4 years ago as the elite universities strutted their expertise in education technology. MOOCs could make college accessible to the masses, unfortunately, that may not have been what the masses needed nor what the higher education wanted. The elite universities jumped on the bandwagon to make sure they had some control over the destiny of these Massively Open Online Courses, MOOCs. MOOCs have been successful with respect to exposure of college courses to the masses but they have been a dismal failure when evaluated against traditional college courses. That is exactly what higher education wanted, validation that their course delivery model was superior to these new online options.
The New York Times article, “Udacity Says It Can Teach Tech Skills to Millions, and Fast” gives us the story on how transitioning to a vocational training model is paying off for Udacity’s bottom line and for the careers of their students. The test market was obvious, software development, which has been pioneering new models based on the boot camp concept of intensive training typically under the guidance of the interested employers. Good jobs exist for coders of today’s popular development platforms. AT&T has been a leader in trying to manipulate the traditional computer science degree feeder system. I was highly impressed with their Georgia Tech and Udacity partnership to create an affordable MS degree in Computer Science. But that degree program was about affordability and marketing, not about a more successful MOOC model.
The MOOC supporters such as AT&T may have finally found the right formula with Udacity’s Nanodegree. Instead of hiring college graduates with programming aptitude and retraining them maybe the corporate employers have finally found a way to satisfy their appetite for software developers.
We have had about a week to digest the latest MOOC bombshell that Georgia Tech is offering an online MS in Computer Science via a partnership with Udacity and funding from AT&T. An offering of an affordable degree, approximately $7000, conferred by Georgia Tech delivered via Udacity’s MOOC engine. Oh yes, available for free through that same engine but with no official blessing. Reaction from our higher ed community is more jaw dropping by the EdTech folks and skepticism by the traditional academic.
This latest move is just another sign pointing to the changing world of higher education. Agree or disagree but change is happening. What is significant to me about this deal is the AT&T investment. Traditional funding for public higher education is under siege by constituents who are requiring outcome assessment, as in, what is the value proposition for a college degree. Employers just want validation of skills and thinking so they can filter their employment recruiting pool. So do you think this deal for AT&T is about hiring only those graduates from Georgia Tech. No it is probably about access to all of the other student taking the courses for free. The actual degree must be validated with official assessment, hence the $7000 price tag. Here lies the real significance of this bombshell. This program will generate a quantifiable comparison of of the outcomes of the degree vs non degree students.
I really admire Georgia Tech for hedging their bet with this innovative move. They win either way, but what about the rest of higher education on the sidelines still claiming that online learning will never be able to produce qualified employees? Notice I said employees not graduates.
The acquisition of T-Mobile by AT&T has conjured up various reflections on the state of our Internet and how we will be guaranteed access to it. First, thoughts on the AT&T deal. Neither company holds my favor so no real hope for an improved AT&T. However, this move makes sense for AT&T because the company (and Apple) get over 30 million new customers, as well as valuable wireless spectrum adjacent to spectrum it already owns. Oh yes and AT&T now has a monopoly on GSM technology which probably means more slower 3G connections.
What I am really thinking about is our Internet and the inevitable pervasive wireless access that is being built. What was that, “pervasive wireless access”? What I mean is that it is in the best interests of all for Internet access to be available almost everywhere, sort of the old radio TV model. Now the emerging model is for the cellular carriers to provide this guarantee at least for mobile devices. We would love for our favorite WiFi service to be the model, but that could not happen, or could it?
My fear of a US Internet access controlled by AT&T and Verizon leads me to imagine another option. We need to pay for the Internet and unfortunately the Telco model is to sell us this access. But what if there was a way to fund public or free Internet access. What if we designed an option that provided kickback revenue to the provider of free public access for all e-commerce transactions that originate from their access space? I could see my university deploy WiFi throughout our town knowing that I could cover the bandwidth costs with an e-commerce revenue stream. If this type of system showed potential then the Cable companies could switch to a free model and also be funded by this revenue kickback. This could work.