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Udacity and other massive open online course (MOOC) providers may have mixed support among academics, but the Palo Alto, Calif.-based startup sure has a lot of allies in Silicon Valley.
On Monday, the company said that it had joined forces with a group of prominent technology companies to launch the Open Education Alliance, which intends to provide students around the world with a curriculum and skills they need to pursue careers in technology.
Since launching last year, Udacity has already partnered with leading companies, including Google (s GOOG) and Nvidia (s NVDA), to offer online classes that better prepare workers for jobs in technology. But with the new alliance, the startup is stepping up and formalizing those efforts by expanding its list of industry partners and involving other educational organizations. Its partners include Silicon Valley companies like Google, Autodesk (s ADSK), Cloudera, Intuit (s INTU)and 23andMe, as well as online education startup Khan Academy and Georgia Tech.
“The world moves so fast today… we have to stay updated,” Udacity co-founder and CEO Sebastian Thrun said Monday at the TechCrunch Disrupt conference. “This alliance is going to put the industry first… [so] you can learn the skills necessary.”
In a blog post about the alliance, Udacity provided further details, explaining that it plans to not only provide online classes, but offer a defined curriculum outlining what students need to know to pursue jobs in technology:
“To participate, members of the alliance commit to assisting in the curation and development of a new 21st century curriculum and to connect learners with opportunities in industry.”
As we’ve covered before, there are significant mismatches between the needs of business and what students are learning. In addition to Udacity’s efforts to bridge these gaps, startups like Coursera, Treehouse, Udemy and Codecademy also aim to provide ongoing technical training online. And beyond online education, companies like ModernGuild, technology-focused high schools, and recent federal efforts attempt to link education and future employment.
Aside from the needs of current workers, Udacity points out that, according to the U.S. Department of Labor, 65 percent of grade-school kids will eventually have jobs that don’t even exist yet.
Although Udacity has some grand ambitions and a widening circle of supporters, it still has to show that its online approach to learning is effective. In July, the startup came under attack after San Jose State University suspended an online education partnership with it because of poor student results. Last month, however, the university and Udacity reported better outcomes for students in a subsequent pilot program.
When asked about the disappointing results at Monday’s conference, Thrun reiterated a point he’s made previously in his defense: when you’re experimenting and inventing something new, the first approach is rarely the one that works.
“The key to innovation – as everyone in this room knows – is fast iteration,” he said.