Open Classrooms Can Change the Course of Your Career

NEW YORK (MainStreet)—Jonathan O'Shaughnessy spent weeks online trying to teach himself 3D programming in order to develop a do-it-yourself jewelry design app for his new venture, shapd.co. O'Shaughnessy, whose background included finance and marketing, not coding, stumbled upon an MOOC (massive online open course) at Udacity, one of the three big MOOC providers. (The other two are Coursera and edX.) Something about the content of this MOOC and the way it was presented in bite-sized two- to three-minute videos clicked for O'Shaughnessy, and the entrepreneur and his team, who also took parts of the course, were able to develop the app. His website will go live in two weeks.

The course was taught by Eric Haines, senior principal engineer at Autodesk, a 3D design software company. Haines doesn't recommend taking his course without some coding background. However, this case does show the power an MOOC can have on a highly motivated business professional. The full course is ten weeks long, but Udacity sets up its courses so that you can take any part of a course any time. In fact, many of the lectures are scripted, so you can search lectures for specific topics that you want to learn about, Haines points out.

Although MOOCs do attempt to open themselves up to student discussions, Haines says these courses are especially good for people who need an understanding of the subject matter but not camaraderie. It's no cost, coffee break learning, he says.

This fits well for busy professionals, and businesses are starting to take notice. Both Udacity and Coursera have begun job-match programs that allow employers access to students who complete course work and opt into the program. Udacity appears to be taking the lead with over 400 companies, including Google, Facebook, Bu.mp, Bank of America, and Greylock Venture Partners. Coursera is working with Facebook, Twitter, TrialPay, and AppDirect. edX is currently looking into a job-matching program.