For years, online learning has let us study new areas of interest, earn advanced degrees from home, engage with renowned experts no matter where in the world they live, and access extra resources to supplement classroom-based education.
Now the field in which technology-based learning is proving most valuable is technology itself -- particularly in computer programming. The Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that job openings for software engineering will increase 22% from 2012 to 2022, a rate that outpaces the average for all other occupations. And the field is lucrative. The average entry-level engineer in Silicon Valley makes at least $100,000.
Though there's no shortage of opportunities, there is a shortage of qualified computer programmer candidates. The job requires mastery of a specific skill set. To gain that mastery, more and more college graduates are looking to online coding programs. These web-based programs are feasible options -- sometimes the only feasible option -- for graduates emerging with degrees that aren't landing them jobs. They want and need to learn skills that will let them support themselves financially in today's tough economic landscape.
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But do basic online coding modules give students everything they need to succeed in the software engineering world? What about the knowledge gained from collaborative learning?
The online learning model and collaboration
Web-based coding lessons from sites like Code School and Treehouse allow people to learn code on their own time at a reasonable price. But the rise of concepts like Hackvard and classroom-based coding "bootcamps" shows that something is missing when learning happens in isolation.
Some of the online coding programs do offer forums in which students can exchange ideas and ask questions, but there's no face-to-face component. Hackvard solves this problem by offering a centralized site on which students using online tutorials can post where they will be working. They can encourage others to come to a local café and work on the same material, so they can discuss the concepts.
Meanwhile, coding bootcamps take things completely live and enroll students for several weeks of roughly 10-hour-per-day instruction. Candidates come out job ready, but the price tag of the camps can be $10,000. They require a full-time commitment and are often prohibitively competitive.
What about an option for the eager beginning coder who has to work a day job and has weekend commitments that don't allow for café time, but still wants to learn in a social setting?
Many of the online coding programs use high-quality video to deliver lessons. Seeing the instructor's face leads to better student engagement, for sure, but it doesn't bring with it the experience of working on a team of coders or the opportunity to ask questions and receive complex answers.
Teaching modules can incorporate video conferencing tools that not only let students speak with one another in real-time from the comfort of their homes and across geographic boundaries, but also let them share and annotate content and connect with instructors during pre-determined video office hours.
Coders relying on online lessons can also benefit from video tools like "lecture capture." This feature records presentations as they occur live, preserving nuance and audience participation for students to watch or revisit on video later. Though it's not live collaboration, viewers still witness the teaching of the material in a live setting, and with the right video quality, the experience can feel like one taking place in a real classroom. Captured lectures feel like school, with the flexibility of going to class on your own schedule.
The future of work will only bring an even higher demand for software engineering experts, making it a vital educational tool. Aspiring computer programmers that train using video modules and collaborative video for teamwork will enter the workforce that much more prepared to code effectively in teams than those who study solo. They'll also benefit from more varied training that feels more interactive, more hands on, and -- chances are -- more fun.
Disclosure: Marci Powell is the global director for education and training at Polycom, a hardware, software, and services company that develops collaborative technologies, including voice, video, and content sharing tools. Similar competitive products in the unified communications market are offered by Cisco and Huawei.
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