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Tuesday, January 14, 2014

2013-2014 A Year of Hack Schooling

14 days into the new year. Let’s imagine a brand new beginning. This is the year you become who you truly want to be : a full-time developer, a teacher, an entrepreneur, a writer, a maker … There’s a hack school (or an app) for each category, and 1000 other websites that promise to make us smarter. And you know the dojos of the new school generation: Udacity, Coursera, Codecademy, Khan Academy. Here are some trends and caveats to keep in mind, in my humble opinion. Let’s talk about the new comers.

Disclaimer: This isn’t just about coding

Hack school isn’t just for coding. And code schools, which are for coding, are no longer obscure. Recently news giants like Wall Street Journals and Fast Company have both covered Codecademy.com, San Francisco code schools and communities scored mentions too!

MOOC’s meh and massive dropout scenario

MOOC (Massive Open Online Courses) have continued to moo for the past two years with student rosters in the multi-millions. Yet we can call it massive dropout classes. Even Udacity’s founder with his own pen and voice could not get a good completion rate. New courses are showing up with free coursework but premium certification / progress submissions. Coursera came up with authentications, aiming to provide credibility. Khan Academy expanded its computer curriculum. MOOC has been a bit meh in growth. Just not enough motivation, not enough discipline.

Y Combinator still hales this year as the year of education

Nevertheless, this is still truly the year of education. Second half of 2013, Startup School by Y Combinator took place. Paul Graham accepted CodeCombat on stage. Ron Conway confirmed in a later session: education would be a priority on the investment front. So indeed, there was CodeCombat, OneMonthRails, and AirPair (developer expertise knowledge transfer/education/training) all showed up in YC. So the rumor is true: education is a shiny star. Note each startup has a different model though. They are not your traditional education either.

How much is elite education worth in dollar amount per hour?

A brief talk about the traditional education: ivy league + Stanford are very expensive. They are elite not hack. One of our favorite calculations after sleeping in and missing class in the Stanford days: how much is each class worth? 45,000 a year, 3 quarters, say 2.5 months of 20 units, a typical economics class is 5 units, 5 hours per week. Say I am taking 4 classes x 5 hours/week = 20 hours/week, 20 hours/week x 2.5 months/quarter 4 weeks/months = 200 hours each quarter. $45,000 / 3 quarters = $15,000 per quarter. That’s about $75 per class. That’s a lot yet a small amount to pay for experts (it’s nice to have a class paying $75 a pop though, Stanford is happy). Udacity’s new class price is $150 a month. It’s definitely elite, considering that most internet subscriptions are well under $30. Even Salesforce.com for business is way less than $150/month. Still, for corporate training, $150/user/month, it is actually a great deal to take training out of house.

New gigs are just cooler than plain old training

Online schools, even in-person, intensive bootcamps cannot mimic the social bond, pressure, competition, motivation, and group mentality an university can provide. But for the corporate world where these bonds are not considered essential (compared to the alma mater of good memories), gamified, software as a service, MOOC, project-based content, learn by doing, or any other new gig is exciting! New offerings are so much more exciting, agile, and cool than the incumbents (thinking about the traditional corporate training seminars, click-through, quizzes at the end, and a generic certificate).

A plethora of skill shops

There’s Skillshare for just about learning anything bite-size and cool, like how to make a vine video. There’s Treehouse projects if you would like to make an app fast. There’s DIY.org for young adults and kids to become a maker and earn scout-like badges. There’s Tinkercad for 3D Printing. The possibility is truly endless. Let’s not forget Udemy which pretty much is Mooc that covers everything, but doesn’t have the heavy weight of university-level education like Coursera has.

Pursuit of happiness in education as … an after thought?

Young 11 yr old TEDxTalk speaker Logan mentioned a good point: what about pursuit of happiness. The dream that clings onto to so many Americans? Maybe the reason we love these newcomers is that they offer fun, excitement without the pressure of our parents’ school systems. All the badges and points, the user stories, projects and gadgets are really our new education as a lifestyle. It is our pursuit of knowledge and happiness.

Finally the ugly words: education as a business

It has always been since the day schools are privatized. We now have the traditional schools, community schools, government schools, trade schools … and the new bootcamp style code schools. With the promises of remaking careers, code school has attracted a high-paying pool of professionals-turned-student learnerpreneurs. Now publications caution against these 100% 100K promises. Code schools also scale back on their “guarantees”. However there will be super user stories and evangelists.

Each player in this hack schooling sphere is finding a way to potential glory. One thing for sure, it has never been so easy to learn just about everything. As someone who likes to read and learn, this is heavenly. Ultimately though, degrees, certificates or badges need to be put to work. I spend a lot of time think about how to be a productive hacker. My 2013 year of education continues to 2014, it’s all about productivity improvements. Now that I flexed my wings in unknown realms, time to talk some numbers.

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