John Ohrenberger

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4 min read

Learning in the Enterprise: Udacity

Articles L&D

This is the latest installment of our series delving into some of the coolest ways to learn online. You can view earlier installments here:

This time around, we’re going to take a quick look quick at Udacity, the learning website that did as much as any to kick off the MOOC revolution that first gained steam in 2012.  Because they helped champion the MOOC cause, Udacity has received a lot of media scrutiny ever since its founding in 2011, with news outlets alternately proclaiming it the bearer of the university system’s doom as well as a flop that can’t get students to finish its courses.

A MOOC, of course, is a Massive Open Online Course.  One of the first offered was a class on artificial intelligence that Udacity’s founder, Sebastian Thrun, taught at Stanford and subsequently made available to anyone online, for free.  More than 150,000 people signed up for the course, or, more than 10x the total number of enrolled students at Stanford.  Not bad!  Soon thereafter Thrun launched Udacity, with a vision of making high quality education available to anyone in the world.

About two years later however, Thrun was quoted as saying that Udacity had a “lousy product” and that they were pivoting to a model more focused on technical vocational training.  I’m not sure how many founders would admit in such a public way that the approach they had been championing for years was not working. However, this willingness to look objectively at the data and pivot to a new model is exactly what has helped Udacity get to where they are today – a product that, though I have no data on whether it is actually working or not, seems to be serving a real, existing market need, and doing so successfully.

So without further ado, let’s have a look at just what Udacity offers.

What can I learn there?

Everything about Udacity, from their marketing to their course offerings, is centered around the idea of skilling you up to the point where you’re definitively ready to be employed as a software engineer – their messaging is unequivocal about this.

Their learning content is packaged into something they call Nanodegrees, a cool term that encapsulates the idea that their courses are both detailed and serious enough to be worthy of being called a degree, but narrowly focused enough that you’re not going to be wasting your time on learning extraneous subject matter.

Some Nanodegrees that Udacity offers include:

  • Front-End Web Developer
  • Android Developer
  • iOS Developer
  • Data Analyst
  • Full-Stack Developer
  • Intro to Programming
  • Tech Entrepreneur

Why Should I use Udacity at my organization?

The answer to this question is naturally going to be highly dependent upon what your workforce is asking you for.  Udacity’s months-long courses represent a different way of learning than the one many experienced developers in your org would likely prefer.  However, the long-form structure and cohort-based pedagogy of nanodegrees will have strong appeal to many employees who have very little familiarity with coding and want to develop their knowledge into an actual asset – both for themselves, and your company.

Further Udacity Nanodegrees should be particularly compelling to companies because the learner earns a certificate upon completion that has some decent cachet to it, having been developed in partnership with companies like Google. That means employees are more likely to learn because they believe others will recognize the time and effort they put into the course material to be a valuable achievement, allowing them to ultimately apply their new skills on the job.

If you’re not convinced, why not pilot it with some of your more motivated and promising software engineers?  There’s no doubt that for many organizations the skills Udacity promises to help you acquire are or will be essential to your business, so it’s well worth looking into.

Categories: Articles L&D

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