Microsoft is launching a new professional degree designed to provide what it says is university-caliber curriculum for technology pros. The company announced the new program in conjunction with its Microsoft Worldwide Partner Conference (WPC) in Toronto this week, and said the initial curriculum will focus on a Data Science Degree program.
The program is built on an infrastructure announcement from earlier in the week at WPC -- Microsoft unveiled an Azure-hosted Open edX, an online learning platform that enables any of its partners to design and deliver their own learning curriculum to customers and students.
"The number one challenge companies cite in adapting their businesses to the modern technology-centric world the Cloud has enabled is finding people with the skills required to be competitive," wrote Alison Cunard, general manager of Microsoft Learning Experiences, in a blog post this week about the new open learning platform available to partners.
"Cloud technology has created new job roles that require different skills. Those roles are evolving from Windows Server Admin or Exchange Admin to things like DevOps, Data Science, Enterprise Mobility, and Business Intelligence. This need to skill up and stay relevant in the modern workforce creates demand for new learning experiences."
First Degree: Data Science
Microsoft will use its open learning platform to offer its professional degree program, starting with a degree in data science. The company said "a significant skill gap exists in the data science field," and this new degree program will address that gap.
[What else did Microsoft announce at WPC? Read Microsoft Rolls Out Skype Alpha on Linux, Chrome.]
To create the program Microsoft said it consulted data scientists and the companies that employ them to identify the requisite core skills. Then Microsoft developed a curriculum to teach functional and technical skills, combining online courses with hands-on labs, concluding in a final capstone project.
Courses include Data Science Orientation, Query Relational Data, Analyze and Visualize Data, Understand Statistics, Explore Data with Code, Understand Core Data Science Concepts, Understand Machine Learning, Use Code to Manipulate and Model Data, Develop Intelligent Solutions, and Final Project.
The courses can be audited for free, but to receive credit towards the Professional Degree, students need to buy a Verified Certificate for each of the 10 courses. During the pilot phase, the certificate for the orientation course is $25, and the certificate for the Statistical Thinking course is $99. All the other courses certificates are $49 each.
Students can view course videos on iOS and Android devices, but the hands-on component of some of the courses require a Windows computer.
Microsoft noted its professional degree program can help technology workers at all levels of their careers gain the knowledge and hands-on experience they need to advance.
The degree program leverages Microsoft's learning partners including DDLS, Fast Lane, NIIT Ltd., and QA Ltd.
"We see this as a fantastic opportunity to provide what our customers have increasingly been asking for, real-world skills -- both conceptual and technical -- that prepare people to succeed in 21st century careers," said Torsten Poels, CEO and chairman of the board, Fast Lane, in a prepared statement.
Microsoft said that it has been conducting a private preview of its professional degree program for about 200 partners, including Fast Lane and about 650 employees since May 2016. These early participants have helped to evaluate and validate the program.
Delivering these skills via an online environment is also an important part of the new program, according to Microsoft's Cunard.
"The ability to offer Learning-as-a-Service, to meet a learner where they are in their own journey and provide the targeted experiences they need to reach their specific goals, is critical to closing the skills gap," she said, in a blog post about the Microsoft announcement.
Microsoft will provide the program on another new program announced at WPC this week, Open edX on Azure.
This new program lets Microsoft's learning partners offer their own learning-as-a-service programs to their own end customers.
Microsoft as a company has itself been transitioning to embrace new delivery models and skill sets as it delivers more services via the cloud and embeds data analytics and machine learning into its product and services.