Friday, 26 April 2013

A review of Udacity




Udacity is a Massive Open Online Courses platform launched in February 2012 by Sebastian Thrun, one of the two professors behind the seminal Stanford AI Class.


Reflecting the key competencies of its founders, Udacity initially offered courses in computer science from beginner level (CS101, building a search engine) to more advanced courses in cryptography and Artificial Intelligence for robotics.



The specificities of Udacity:

Unlike other MOOC platforms, Udacity has chosen to develop its courses in house. The courses therefore tend to be all on a very similar format:

- 7 weeks long
- short videos (1 to 3 minutes) punctuated by quizzes
- weekly homework assignments
- weekly recorded office hours (in which the professor and teaching assistant answer the forum questions with the highest number of votes)
- last week devoted to a ‘field trip’ (interviews with outside experts to put the course in context)

Despite Sebastian Thrun openness to offering on Udacity any subject that can be taught online, the focus on scienctific subject remains (with the exception of Steve Blank’s course on lean startups).

Udacity is a for profit company and its plan has been early on to offer courses for free but make money by identifying and placing its best students. In this spirit, it has started to offer courses with corporate partners:



From early 2013, Udacity also started a partnership with San Jose State University to offer online courses for credit (for a $150 fee).


Udacity’s strong points:

  • Udacity’s strong focus on pedagogy really shows. With its CS101 course, anybody actually can learn how to code a search engine with Python from scratch in 6-7 weeks.
  • After their first run, Udacity’s are still available as asynchronous courses which is more convenient than one off courses on other platforms.
  • Udacity’s career service is run by an ex-google recruiter and leverages knowledge of students’ forums activity as well as academic performance to match them with companies.
  • With Steve Blank teaching a course on entrepreneurship and Steve Huffman teaching a web development course, Udacity’s professor could not be more prestigious.


Udacity’s not so strong points:

  • Udacity is in the unique position of building curriculums rather than just courses. It is still not quite there though. CS253 (web development) which was advertised to CS101 students has a natural next step, threw off quite a few by requiring a lot of knowledge never covered in the previous course.
  • The user interface which was revamped in early 2013 offers an experience that isn’t as polished as on other platforms.



Udacity is a leader of the MOOC platforms neither by number of courses offered nor by number of students enrolled but its integrated model is probably the one holding the most promise for charting the future of education.


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