There are so many things that go into creating an amazing learning environment beyond curriculum. What are some reasons people go to college?
* To be surrounded by similarly motivated people
* The promise of a transformative experience
* A certificate that is valued by the marketplace
* Employability, job skills, etc.
That's not a complete list, but are some dimensions that an online-only education is ill-suited to address.
Even the best online, gamified, social learning experience won't hold a candle to just sitting next to another person who is equally motivated to learn the same thing you are.
Disclaimer: I'm about to pitch the startup I work for. :)
These are some of the core ideas behind Dev Bootcamp (http://devbootcamp.com). Most of our incoming students have gone through all of this online-only curriculum and they want more. Employers demand more, too, because a lot of what goes into making an awesome employee is about the ability to learn quickly, work on a team, communicate effectively and non-politically, etc.
We're in the middle of our third class of students. In our last class, 95% of those looking for a job received an offer, including internships at Twitter and ThoughtBot, and jobs as a software engineer at places like Hipmunk and Pivotal Labs.
Here's Justin Kan on Dev Bootcamp: http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=4725790
His youngest brother went through our program in the summer.
Coursera is amazing. We're living in a world where everyone can visit the Library of Alexandria, which is itself mind-blowing.
But I don't think Coursera or other online-only educational experiences can have the kind of transformative power that an in-person education provides.
I went through something similar to devbootcamp here in Chicago (Code Academy, which is now Starter League). The problem I ran into was that I didn't know what I didn't know prior to the program. So rather than spending all my time asking really interesting questions, I feel like I spent weeks going over really remedial stuff for most people.
When people ask me if they should go to a Code Academy or devbootcamp, I say yes — but only after exhausting your other resources (which are always significantly easier for people access/pay for). If they are willing to put in the time to learn the basics, these students will reach your program with their minds loaded with questions rather than simply seeking to be taught how to get started.
Dave Hoover was kind enough to push me toward 'Deschooling Society' (which is like MSNBC and Fox News having a fight inside your brain, with both sides being correct). One of the examples that rings true about the book is talking about the role of school and environment. Let's focus less on the where and more on the when. It goes on to talk about pooling those similarly minded folks together for discussions anywhere people happen to gather, rather than limiting it to a specific location. But it also pushes the idea of consuming the knowledge ahead of time as prep for intellectual discussion and growth in the group setting.
My take is that those who want to learn will put forth the effort to prep before meeting in a traditional face-to-face forum. We're just lucky enough that the access to the information is becoming easier.
Dev Bootcamp gives out our own custom prep material about a month before a cohort starts. You're interacting with other students and staff online starting then. Our prep material covers everything from the basics of programming up to simple object-oriented programming.
Some students will be farther ahead, but one thing we make clear to students on day 1 is that they're as responsible for creating the learning environment as we are. In fact, they outnumber us, so in many ways they're more responsible. :)
We emphasize patience and empathy, so students who are behind get mentorship from the students who are ahead. It reinforces the learning for the more advanced students and shores up the less advanced students.
Starting Jan. 28th, we're moving to rolling cohorts, where ~15 students enter every 3 weeks for a 9-week program. This way there will be a "senior third" expected to mentor students in the "freshman third." You'd be able to seek out that struggling student and give him the help they needed right when they entered the program.
Also, Dave, who is a badass at every level, joined the DBC team last month. I love that man and his squirrel-as-a-running-back t-shirt.
Scroll down and check it: http://devbootcamp.com/learn-more/
We want to make DBC more affordable, but there are some very important things we get by charging students directly that we'll never compromise on. We're working hard to make it more affordable within those constraints, though.
Some of the benefits we get by charging students:
First, the vast majority of our revenue comes from directly from students. They're our customers. If we made money only from employer referral fees, there'd be a financial tension between "in-network" and "out-of-network" employers. Right now about 40% of our students are hired from companies who don't have a referral agreement with us.
Second, when students pay they feel it. They demand so much of us because of what they paid. Their bar is set incredibly high and we push ourselves every day to overshoot it. If we're delivering the value we promise -- you'll be job-ready in 10 weeks, if that's what you want -- then we think the price tag is worth it.
Third, we, as staff, feel it. When a student hands over a check like that, holy shit, you feel responsible. They're entrusting you with their livelihood. It helps hold us accountable to remind ourselves every day that they're not just students, but customers.
Fourth, when you're in a room with 50 other people who have made that kind of personal and financial commitment, you can feel it. It's electric.
Fifth, we have a sustainable business. We don't need outside capital. We can create an awesome space. We can have an awesome library, events, etc. We can hire awesome teachers and pay them 2-3x what they'd make teaching elsewhere.
Just some food for thought. It doesn't change your overall point about our price tag, which we're sensitive to, but those are just a few things on the other side of the scale.