NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

A New Model in Online Education

March 12, 2014

A new model in online education aims to replace traditional academic coursework with job-related classes, says Greg Beato, a contributing editor at Reason Magazine.

Massive open online courses (known as MOOCs) have grown in the last several years as colleges and universities have begun offering some of their classes online. But Udacity, a 2011 Silicon Valley start-up created by a Google employee, is aiming to provide more vocationally-focused classes in an online format.

  • Two of the first courses offered by Udacity (whose founder, Sebastian Thrun, developed the technology behind the driverless car) were "Building a Search Engine" and "Programming a Robotic Car."
  • In October 2012, the company announced that it was going to partner with Google and Autodesk and similar companies to offer classes such as "HTML5 Game Development" and "Interactive Rendering."

MOOCs have generally so far been open to anyone interested in taking the classes for free. Udacity's courses are also open, but it offers "enrollment" to students willing to pay, which provides personalized coaching, detailed feedback on assignments and a certificate of accomplishment upon completing the course.

  • For $105 per month, a student can take "Introduction to Salesforce App Development" and complete the course at his own pace.
  • Udacity developed the model in response to a problem that MOOCs have suffered: very low completion rates. In some cases, less than 10 percent of students who register for a MOOC actually complete the course.
  • Students who enroll in traditional universities have an incentive to attend and pass their classes, wanting to get a return on their tuition investment. Applying this same principle, Udacity began charging fees for classes, which brought their completion rates up above MOOC levels.
  • Udacity also hopes that its certificates of completion will eventually send enrollment skyrocketing as companies begin to hire more employees based on Udacity coursework.

Beato says that for those who see college as something that should be personal, inexpensive and accessible for people across the spectrum online courses are leading the way.

Source: Greg Beato, "Online Higher Education Retools," Reason Magazine, March 2014.


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