Udacity & the Future of Nanodegrees

Udacity just announced their plans to launch a series of “nanodegrees”, online learning experiences that can be completed in 6-12 months, and that are tied directly to tech job needs described by companies like AT&T, Salesforce, and Cloudera. The programs boast of industry experts as teachers/mentors and a hands-on curriculum that is focused on the stated needs for current or future tech positions at specific companies like AT&T. The promotional site argues that this is an alternative to traditional schooling. In traditional schools, the technology may change before you graduate and are ready for the job market. And for others in the workforce, they might not be able to go back to school. In either case, nanodegrees are offered as an alternative with a potential direct line to a job at a specific company.

Such a model provides learners with a credential and portfolio to use for employability, but it also provides companies that have specific workforce needs with a direct pipeline into those need areas. Such a program is not entirely new, as there are ample examples of Universities partnering with specific companies to provide degrees focused upon specific needs; things business colleges providing a “sales school” for certain corporations, or colleges of education providing custom curricula, courses and programs to need current needs. Then there are many certificate and certifications tied to professional organizations. However, this experiment in nanodegrees seems to have a number of interesting and potentially distinct features:

  1. It is not tied to any accredited University or school, or is it tied (at least not yet) to specific associations or professional organizations.
  2. The credibility comes from the student projects created at the end of the nanodegree, the quality of the content, the quality and pedigree of the mentors, and the partnership with known and respected companies.
  3. It has a strong apprenticeship model because instructors/mentors are from a sponsoring company. The are expert practitioners.
  4. It is not a course or degree, but something between the two, a 6-12 month training program called a nanodegree.
  5. The partnership with one or more companies is including incentives like 100 dedicated internship spots for some of the highest performing “graduates” of the nonodegree.
  6. There seems to be a plan to launch more nanodegrees focused upon high need skill sets in companies.
  7. It can be completed entirely online.
  8. New nanodegrees can be seemingly created quickly and frequently adjusted based upon market demand/need.

This is an exciting experiment and interesting development, and I look forward to exploring questions like:

  • What sort of interest this garners from job seekers?
  • How long before nanodegrees start to extend beyond skills related to tech careers?
  • How long before more companies partner with Coursera for such training?
  • How long will it take for other organizations to follow suit with their own nanodegree partnerships.
  • Finally, to what extent will this supplement, replace or work alongside more traditional degrees and credentials?
  • Will they combine this with the good work being done around open badges?