Outcome-based learning key for future employment in India, says Clarissa Shen, COO of Udacity

4th Jun 2018
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The American online learning platform has worked with Flipkart, Google India and Tata Group to create top industry ready employees in India.

Clarissa Shen is known in the industry for fast pace of work and ability to get things done quickly. With her expertise, Udacity has grown rapidly, thanks to a team that believes in outcome-based learning.

Its revenues stood at $71 million in 2017, and for future growth it has placed big bets on China and India. The company founded by Sebastian Thrun, David Stavens, and Mike Sokolsky has raised $160 million in VC funding, and competes with likes of Coursera and Udemy. In India it has worked with the likes of Tata Group, Google and Flipkart to upskill their employees on project and outcome-based learning.

Clarissa says that learning at Udacity is built on industry standards and all the courses are curated to the needs of the employer. In an interview with YourStory, Clarissa, who is the COO of Udacity, says that learning at Udacity would make the learner be valued, by the corporate world, for the practical skills gathered, rather than rote-based learning. Here are the excerpts:

YourStory: You talked about some Indian companies that you worked with. What outcomes did you focus on with these firms?

Clarissa Shen: We help corporate focus on interview less hiring, what I mean is that company's can fast track experience by skipping early screening interviews due to the rigor of project based learning portfolios.

For example, we have all our Android developers learning based on what industry wants. Project based learning means people learn to code practically and stay relevant in the workforce. This is a big opportunity for India because there are technology changes in the world and there is a need for industry standard people.

It is only possible if education is democratised and offers outcome-based learning. This is what the industry wants all over the world. Why do I say this? When we went back to some of the companies, that we work with, and checked up on the performance of our students, the companies tell us that these employees – our students – were the top performers in the company.

YS: What are the changes that you are seeing in the world of education and what should students learn to stay ahead?

CS: There is no doubt that digital platforms are democratising education. You have to look at opportunities there and ensure that people have future proofed themselves. Tech is where changes are happening mostly, and everyone must be aligned to business transformation. My goal is to ensure that people who graduate from Udacity have to be on demand from the corporate side. The Government of USA has done a study which says 60 percent of the kids in the future will be in jobs that are yet to be invented. What I mean is that I see is people in the Silicon Valley changing jobs every 18 months and they go after new technology trends. We are in eight countries so far and I notice that tech is changing the way we work.

Organisations are looking at employing those that can fill new roles and even governments are keen to upskill students to industry standards. So, our Nanodegree programme will fill these gaps with courses such as the data scientist foundation, neural networks foundation, Artificial Intelligence with Python and data structures and algorithms.

YS: You have the self-driving car nano-degree programme, how unique is that?

CS: We are testing our own self driving car, which is being tested in the Mountain View Area. The students get to write code and deploy it in our own self drive car which already drives from San Francisco and all the way to Mountain View. There are car companies like Mercedes, BMW, Audi and Jaguar who have worked with us to train and hire students.

YS: What does it mean to be building a company that is growing so fast?

CS: As a COO, I have to ensure that the business is sustainable. I admit we are not profitable, but we are very focused on unit economics. The strategy is to work out the unit economics based on each region that we operate in. China and the US are the big markets for us. Now we have 150 partners on the B2B side where the likes of Google are our partners. 85-90 percent of our revenues still come from B2C, but let me tell you that global corporations are very serious about upskilling. We are also very serious about working with our partners in providing scholarships.

YS: The world complains that AI is going to take away jobs, is that true?

CS: I want to tell students out there that tech is not taking away people’s jobs. People should reskill themselves and go after new opportunities. As a company, we do not want to be complacent and we want to tell people that they can succeed by learning. I have great examples from the largest telecom provider in India, where kids picked up Udacity courses in free Wifi zones in their stores, picked up on skills and ultimately changed their lives by getting engineering jobs that finally helped their families.

YS: Your business in China is large, what are your plans for the country?

CS: We have been working with several partners. We are trying to solve real world problems there. We are getting students to do something tangible. There are several partners in China. One of them is Uber’s competitor and they are using us for reskilling. We work with Tencent and WeChat to create programmes.

We follow the philosophy of getting people to standards in every industry in each country. China is big for us, but we are also making it big in Germany. Over there we are trying to help students figure out how to choose the market that they like, and then learn to transform this into opportunities.

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