I wrote a post a few years ago about The Most Dangerous Man In Higher Education. In it I talked about how Sebastian Thrun is creating a software system to enable the whole world to learn higher education concepts at low or no cost. He was one of the pioneers of the MOOC concept at Sanford. He is not in it for the money, he’s in it to solve a problem. This makes him very dangerous to the traditional university model.
His company Udacity did not disrupt higher education yet but their latest idea may help do that.
From the Udacity blog:
[W]e are launching nanodegrees: compact, flexible, and job-focused credentials that are stackable throughout your career. And the nanodegree program is designed for efficiency: select hands-on courses by industry, a capstone project, and career guidance. Efficient enough that you can get a nanodegree as you need it and earn new ones throughout your career, even if you need to switch paths since a career isn’t always a straight line.
This is a model that is life long, focuses on skills, not basic knowledge and is do it as you need it. All of these are characteristics of what I think learning will be like in the future. This splitting up of the degree into pieces follows my Disaggregation model exactly. Learning is not tied to a building or a place. People who leave that behind will find their options opened up a great deal.
This last part of the blog post really caught my attention.
We know we still have a long road ahead, but today is the first step on a new path for education by industry. This will be a way for companies and students to stand out in their field and embrace modern vocational and lifelong learning. Nanodegrees have industry backing, valid credentials, compelling courses, and relevant career guidance. Most importantly, we’re dedicated to making them work for every single student.
This is education by the people who will be hiring students in the future. It will be very relevant and carry with it the weight of industry experience. Will it have more weight than a class taught by a professor who is 20 years removed from their industry? Perhaps. If this model works, I see it being copied and moved into other fields too. If it doesn’t work then at least it’s another iteration along the path towards something that does.