Udacity and Sebastian Thrun: Failed at MOOCs Now Develop a NanoDegree!

Dear Commons Community,

Earlier this week, Starbucks announced that it was offering its employees the chance for a college degree by partnering with Arizona State University. Starbucks rightfully received due praise for its initiative in this area. That was the ecstasy. Yesterday we got the agony as AT&T and Sebastian Thrun of Udacity announced a new $200. a month “NanoDegree” designed to be completed in 6-12 months. Thrun who famously announced that his company’s MOOCs were lousy products now has now developed another questionable product. As described in a New York Times article:


“This week, AT&T and Udacity, the online education company founded by the Stanford professor and former Google engineering whiz Sebastian Thrun, announced something meant to be very small: the “NanoDegree.”

At first blush, it doesn’t appear like much. For $200 a month, it is intended to teach anyone with a mastery of high school math the kind of basic programming skills needed to qualify for an entry-level position at AT&T as a data analyst, iOS applications designer or the like.

Yet this most basic of efforts may offer more than simply adding an online twist to vocational training. It may finally offer a reasonable shot at harnessing the web to provide effective schooling to the many young Americans for whom college has become a distant, unaffordable dream.

Intriguingly, it suggests that the best route to democratizing higher education may require taking it out of college.

“We are trying to widen the pipeline,” said Charlene Lake, an AT&T spokeswoman. “This is designed by business for the specific skills that are needed in business.”

This sounds like more snake oil from Udacity and Sebastian Thrun.  Call this new venture with AT&T  a certificate program  but a who in their right mind would call such a narrow program a “degree” nano or otherwise.



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