Colleges are turning out large numbers of graduates with technical educations. Yet many technical jobs are unfilled. The reason why is fundamentally simple: there’s a gap between “education” and “experience.”
In the realm of computer science and related technology subjects, there are a multitude of online options, from Khan Academy to Lynda.com, to help bring you up to speed. But how successful are most learners at actually developing expertise in technical subjects just from videos?
Enter the online tutoring startup Thinkful. Its tagline is “Online school for a better career.” Its aim is to bridge the gap between the skill set you have when you get out of college and the skill set you really need to get a good job: “level-up to find the job you’ll love” as they put it.
According to Dan Friedman, co-founder of Thinkful and one of the first recipients of a 20 Under 20 Thiel Fellowship, “We launched Thinkful because we saw that the skill sets we need to be productive workers are changing so quickly. I saw this in my peers — as they discovered what work they love, there’s this huge gap in the skills that they need to get these jobs and there aren’t great ways to fill those gaps.”
Thinkful claims that its “apprenticeship” instructional model is unique and makes all the difference relative to online-only courses for professionals. Students benefit from an online curriculum to structure their self-directed learning, in combination with one-on-one mentoring with experienced professionals to ensure success. Learners are encouraged to develop ideas for “projects” they want to create, which become part of their personalized curriculum. There’s also a community of like-minded fellow students to engage with.
Thinkful’s program is also understandably more expensive than MOOCs and other online learning formats. It’s $250/month or $750 for three months. This includes a skills assessment, which Thinkful uses to help create each student’s custom curriculum. Students meet with their mentor weekly — online of course — and can also take advantage of daily online “office hours.”
The hope is that this “deeper” educational experience will lead to greater success, not only in the courseware but also in the job market. To help make that happen Thinkful is also developing partnerships with employers, who benefit through access to talented professionals trained in areas where there is a dearth of expertise in the job marketplace.
Interestingly, the online component of the Thinkful program is pulled from what’s already out there online at sites like Codeacademy. Through a partnership with CodeSchool, learners get access to that site’s paid content. In essence, this content is analogous to a textbook for a conventional course. Ideally students will spend only 20% of their time interacting with this material, versus about 80% doing projects under the guidance of their mentors.
So far Thinkful is focusing on teaching web development as a start. But students have also found jobs in areas like marketing, sales and finance through the program, according to Dan Friedman. The company recently received $1 million in backing from Peter Thiel and others after running its first class this winter and training about 25 students.
With jobs becoming increasingly specialized and so many college graduates settling for underemployment, Thinkful might well be onto something. Is career training the next big growth area for online tutoring organizations?
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