Could Online Learning Be Your Gateway to a New Career?


Does this describe you?


an unhappy employee who is either under skilled or under employed, desperate to find another job that challenges and satisfies you in a more holistic way.

Chances are, many of the people reading this would identify with this profile. The big question facing employees is how – and perhaps more importantly, where – do they take that next step towards their dream job?

Udacity appears to have heard these folks, loud and clear. A four-year-old online education company, Udacity started out offering free university-oriented Mass Open Online Courses (MOOCs). However, with completion rates dropping and established universities ignoring graduates, Udacity started looking for the next big thing in online education.

Then, Udacity hit upon a new model – the nanodegree – a fee-for-service course that give participants training in skills required by specific employers such as Google and AT&T. 

In a recent New York Times profile, readers learned how Udacity was helping younger employees move from more mundane, entry-level jobs directly into highly skilled positions. They featured the story of a 25-year-old programmer at Google who was hired into her current position after completing a Udacity course specifically offered to match job skills requirements at the world’s most used search engine. 

The young programmer featured in the article is a poster girl for the overeducated, underemployed generation of employees. A Master’s degree in education from Harvard had only prepared her for a job in Google’s customer service area. After upgrading her programming skills through a Udacity nanodegree, she was suddenly writing code. 

This is a tale that shows very well for Udacity, and for Google. But how realistic is it for the rest of us?

For many years now, it was thought that MOOCs held the key to more agile, responsive workforce. In short, MOOCs were seen as a way of helping the workforce shift their skills and education quickly to employer needs, and in doing so, create a benefit for the entire economy. 

The reality turned out a little different. Although MOOCs have been wildly successful, and the most popular classes are jammed to the hilt at the start, average completion rates typically hover at less than seven percent of participants. That certainly suggests that while MOOC participants recognize the potential of the courses to transform their career paths, many are finding that this learning style may not be good fit once they start.

That, in and of itself, is an important observation. Technology has allowed us to extend leading-edge education to an ever-growing population. The altruistic culture of MOOCs means that top-end education is available to a wider audience. However, even with all of those educational opportunities hovering just a click away, it may not be a good fit for everyone. 

The emergence of MOOCs and all their various incarnations does not change the fundamental truth of career planning: responsibility for getting ahead in your career lies with the individual. 

For some, MOOCs may be the key to opening a new world of career opportunities. Others may need to take a different path. In both cases, however, the chief responsibility for finding the right path lies with the individual.

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