Udacity has announced two new initiatives this week - a new Data Science and Big Data Track and Paid Course Enrollment. The link between them is a focus on improving career prospects.
When Sebastian Thrun announced the Open Education Alliance formed by Udacity with a group of industry partners in September, he stated that its focus would be to develop career readiness and to provide education that is relevant to employment opportunities.
Now Udacity has announced both a new track and a new personal coach option for students who enroll in courses, and pay a monthly fee, rather that just follow the free online content comprising information, lectures and auto-graded exercises.
According to Udacity's FAQ's:
The difference between enrolling in a course versus viewing free courseware is like the difference between attending a great class versus simply reading a textbook.
The paid enrollment scheme will be available from January 2014 with charges made per month, per course. Courses will continue to be offered on a flexible schedule with no fixed start or finish data and students can take as much time as required to finish them. The main difference is that during the period of enrollment students will have access to a personal coach who will provide advice and feedback including reviewing code and giving guidance on projects.
The other benefit of enrollment is a verified certificate of accomplishment based on your final project review and an exit interview.
The new paid enrollment scheme places a great deal of importance on projects, stating:
Landing a dream job takes much more than an impressive resume. That’s why Udacity courses are built around hands-on projects that you can show off to employers as part of your portfolio. And because we want your projects to reflect your best work, you’ll be provided with personalized project design and code feedback with ample opportunity to iterate your work.
So what does the new "Full Course experience" cost?
Currently this information is only available for a handful of courses and students are being offered a 30% discount for enrolling in advance for the four new courses that are part of the Data Science and Big Data Track and also for Intro to Salesforce App Development. For beginner level courses the cost is $150 per month ($105 per month with the 30% early registration discount), and for Data Wrangling with MongoDB, which is an intermediate course expected to take 2 months, the cost is $200 per month ($140 per month with the 30% early registration discount).
Choosing to launch the "full experience" with data science courses seems a good idea as the career implications are straightforward. Data Scientists are already in big demand and according to the Udacity blog in the next three years, there is an expected shortage of up to 190,000 data science experts in the US alone.
The first class in the track is already available for those who just want to follow it for free. At Beginner level, Introduction to Hadoop and MapReduce, is a collaboration with Cloudera taught by Sarah Sproehnle and Ian Wrigley who start by answering the question “What is Big Data?” before going on to cover fundamental principles of Apache Hadoop and MapReduce. It is expected to take a month if you study for 5 hours per week.
In January two more beginner level classes will be added to the track. Introduction to Data Science a course that is expected to take 2 months is a survey of four foundational topics:
- Data Manipulation
- Data Analysis with Statistics and Machine Learning
- Data Communication with Information Visualization
- Data at Scale -- Working with Big Data
Exploratory Data Analysis, also expected to take 2 months, looks at an approach to data analysis for summarizing and visualizing the important characteristics of a data set and also introduces students to R,
Given that Udacity will continue to offer its courseware for free, the full experience seems like an attractive option for those who need more help than is on offer on the discussion forums. The initiative may do something to address the very high dropout rate that has been the norm for Udacity courses so far. After all if you pay for a service you are much more likely to try to stick with it.