Baby Steps

A post on two subjects recently reported by

BootFirst, researchers at Glasgow Caledonian and Harvard Universities have completed a study that looked at data on four hundred participants in an edX MOOC designed for health care professionals. The researchers found that the MOOC’s participants were highly satisfied with its design emphasis on content provision, but the learning that occurred was “passive.” Participants concentrated on engaging with the content rather than with each other, and they failed to connect the scientific knowledge learned through the MOOC to practical applications at work.

I see nothing surprising in this finding, for at least two reasons:

  • The researchers might not have taken the problem of transfer into account.
  • One-way delivery of content is still one-way delivery of content, but it’s much cheaper to do this with a MOOC than with a lecture at the front of a classroom or a physical textbook. So why not put the content online and use the classroom for valuable face to face interaction, especially if doing so reduces the cost of attending any particular university?

Second, Course Report, an online directory of coding bootcamps, has released a study that (surprise!) finds that bootcamp enrollment is climbing quickly while traditional computer science bachelor’s degree programs are seeing fewer students. The average bootcamp lasts about ten weeks and costs US$10,000, while the computer science degree is a four-year commitment and can often cost US$100,000 to US$250,000.

You can justifiably argue that these bootcamps are simply producing code monkeys with a limited skill set and future. They don’t know math, don’t understand computer architecture, and don’t design algorithms. Eventually there will be more coders than the market needs, especially when the work is outsourced to India. But how many people can afford the four-year computer science degree in the USA or Europe? For the time being, many people are finding that bootcamps are a cost and time effective route to earning a higher income. I don’t see universities offering similar services for a similar price.