How MOOCs and Online Courses Will Drive IT
By Nixon Patel
Information technology is one of the fastest changing industries in history. New programming languages are constantly in development and new technologies create both opportunities and challenges for IT organizations and workers. Every business sector from retail to software to media relies on the latest IT innovations to deliver a superior product or customer service. In this type of ever-changing environment, the classic modes of education have a hard time keeping up with the demands of the learners. Luckily there are new modes of education stepping in to fill the gap and provide on-demand resources that are faster, cheaper and accessible to anyone with an internet connection.
In 1994 a University of Pennsylvania professor offered the first online college seminar to more than 500 learners around the world. In 2006 Khan Academy began producing and offering free mathematics video courses through YouTube, and has since expanded to history, economics, music, several sciences, American civics and even art history. Today world-leading institutions such as MIT, Stanford, Harvard and Princeton offer internet courses to tens of thousands of learners through a growing list of online education companies including Coursera and Udacity. In 2013 Udacity and the Georgia Institute of Technology partnered to offer a ground-breaking program, an online Masters Degree in Computer Science that cost just $7,000 instead of the same school’s $40,000 on-site instructor-led program.
This leap forward in the availability and affordability of education will help the IT industry adapt quickly to changes and will most certainly deliver continuing education to thousands of current and future IT professionals. With fewer credential requirements, more open minds on both the teaching and learning sides and the lower cost of entry, we are entering a new age of secondary and professional education. In Q2 of 2014 there were more than 900 Massive Online Open Courses (MOOCs) offered by U.S. universities and colleges. One of Udacity’s courses enrolled more than 300,000 students, a number that would have been unthinkable just a decade ago.
What this all means for IT managers, CEOs and recent IT graduates is that constant education is available and ready. Senior staff can learn skills to expand their value and determine new ways to improve their department’s and their company’s performance. Job searchers are increasingly citing continuing education and the opportunity for professional growth as a major factor in deciding where to work, and the best companies of the future will help their employees learn and grow through whatever means are available. In addition to continuing education, MOOCs hold the promise of creating a much larger talent pool, a more diverse industry including more women and minorities and fast program development to tackle rapid changes in industry best practices.
The best thing that we as an industry, as a nation and as a world can do to fill all the available IT jobs is to make education affordable or free to all. This means that companies must invest in educating their workforces on an ongoing basis to stay competitive and to retain top talent. Until education funding policy changes, online alternatives like MOOCs will continue to grow and provide a means for smart people to learn the skills our economy requires without necessitating a big bank account or a lifetime of debt. It’s possible that colleges will change their structures and business models to cope with the growth of online education, but we must be concerned more with the quality and availability of the content than which institution is providing it. From children to seniors and entry-level staff to CEOs, computer science education will continue to be one of the most important factors for the success of businesses and economies around the world. This is the democratization of education, and it will change the IT landscape for years to come.