Expanding Access to Education

Ryan Keenan, Director of Product at DeepLearning.AI
September 22, 2021 · 8 min read

At DeepLearning.AI, we specialize in building high-quality learning experiences for people interested in machine learning and artificial intelligence. We aim to give everyone with an internet connection access to world-class education, and each time we launch a new course that delivers value for thousands of learners, we move one step closer to that goal.

In the modern workforce, we all need to be lifelong learners to keep up with the pace of technology, and this means that the demand for worldwide access to high-quality education is growing fast. At DeepLearning.AI, beyond just building more courses, we believe that we can expand access to education even further by sharing what we know about creating high-quality learning experiences. That way, educators in our community can become even better at delivering outcomes for the learners they’re serving.

As a first step toward sharing what we know, we’ve created a Curriculum Architect training program for experienced and aspiring educators to become more effective teachers. Here’s why we think this is important:

 

Lifelong learning is really a thing

There was a time not long ago when a person could spend a few years getting an education and then have a successful career that lasted a lifetime. Of course, there was on-the-job learning, and one might take on a variety of different roles, but a person could develop one core set of skills and build a successful lifelong career.

Nowadays, people can expect to change careers multiple times. The consultants at McKinsey recently published an article on the value of lifelong learning that states, “Even before COVID-19 emerged, the world of stable lifetime employment had faded in the rearview mirror, replaced by the expectation that both executives and employees must continually refresh their skills.” This dynamic new job market is a result of the continuous disruption of industries driven by new technologies and the automation of work previously done by humans. With each new disruption, however, come new opportunities.

One might need to learn a new skill to pursue a new opportunity, or the skills one previously developed might become obsolete. In either case, access to high quality education is crucial to making a successful transition from one career to another or upskilling into a new role. But would-be learners need more than just access to education, they also need to embrace a mindset shift toward lifelong learning. By mastering skills in multiple areas, keeping an eye on opportunities for professional growth, and extending their comfort zone, lifelong learners can position themselves for upcoming changes.

Lifelong learning is not just a personal concern. Companies, too, regularly need to retool to stay competitive and avoid obsolescence. With the ongoing digital transformation of a wide range of technologies, companies worldwide are facing a shortage of skilled workers, a looming “skills gap.” In one recent study, 82% of executives interviewed at companies making $100M+ in annual revenue said that retraining and upskilling employees will be more than half the battle in closing that gap. Hiring a new set of employees every time a company needs to pivot is not an option. Instead, companies recognize the need to offer continuing education to their employees to keep pace with changing technology and market demands.

These trends in the job market mean that learners today must be lifelong learners, and employers must be educators. Whether an individual is looking to learn something new or an employer is looking to upskill their workforce, they need to find an effective and efficient path from where they are to where they want to be in terms of new skills and knowledge acquired. These needs ultimately translate into a vast and growing demand for skilled educators to develop effective curricula that meet the needs of learners and employers alike.

 

The challenges of lifelong learning

With the rise of the internet, experts predicted a new era of education, where all information could be accessed online, and anyone with an internet connection would be able to learn whatever they want, whenever and wherever they want. While the internet does provide access to a vast amount of information, it is challenging to find relevant, high-quality learning experiences at the right difficulty level. Access to all the world’s information has not translated into worldwide access to education.

Learners in DeepLearning.AI’s community are acutely aware that, while an abundance of educational material exists online, much of it is a waste of time. One of the most common requests we get is advice on the best resources for obtaining specific skills and knowledge given a particular set of career goals.

Many employers, frustrated with the educational materials available externally, have created their own internal education systems. For example, AirBnB’s Data University is designed to provide data analytics education to its employees.

Colleges and universities have traditionally been the providers of higher education, but such traditional education can be out of reach for lifelong learners. Even for someone fortunate enough to have earned a college degree, it can be challenging to commit additional time, effort, and money to traditional education while managing work and family responsibilities.

With the rise of lifelong learning as a requirement for a successful career, the need for on-demand, high-quality education is growing fast. Academic institutions are implementing online courses and micro-credentials. Nearly every major company is investing in upskilling employees. Individuals worldwide are turning to non-traditional education channels such as boot camps and online courses to get the skills they need to succeed.

 

The architecture of curriculum

With this demand for lifelong learning comes a corresponding demand for people who know how to build effective curricula. Great teachers have the ability to take raw information and convert it into an effective learning experience, much like a great chef takes raw ingredients and creates a delicious meal. A great teacher can prepare an experience that enables learners to master new skills through practice, feedback, and reinforcement.

Similar to a building, education can be thought of as having a certain architecture. One house might look different from another, but they share common underlying features. Every house needs a solid foundation, and everything from the structural components to the plumbing and wiring needs to be carefully connected to result in a robust and functional structure. An education also requires a foundation to support scaffolds of knowledge. Concepts must be connected and reinforced, enabling a novice to gain the robust mental schema of an expert.

The ability to create effective curricula is a skill set, just like the ability to build a solid house or prepare a delicious meal. Just like any other skill set, it takes practice to get good at it. With the rising demand for expertise in curriculum development, an abundance of job opportunities in both industry and academia await teachers who possess these valuable skills.

There is no single name for this role. You might see job postings for “Curriculum Developer,” “Learning Experience Designer,” or even “Developer Advocate.” The roles are diverse and might include:

  • Developing online courses.
  • Leading internal or external training programs for a company.
  • Advising academic faculty on how to improve their courses.

These roles all require the same fundamental set of skills.

 

The architecture of curriculum

At DeepLearning.AI, we prefer the title of “Curriculum Architect” for someone who possesses such superpowers. Curriculum Architects need to have a deep sense of empathy for learners and strong communication skills. They typically work across a range of topics and subject matter and often don’t possess direct expertise in the material they teach, so they need to be fast learners as well. Usually, they’re responsible for leading a team that includes subject matter experts, developers, designers, producers, and others. In this way, they need to be both coordinators and builders of curricula. At DeepLearning.AI, our Curriculum Architects have led teams in partnership with the likes of Google, Amazon, and other world-class institutions to create some of the most popular courses on the internet. 

The current demand for Curriculum Architects has grown out of the worldwide need for lifelong learning opportunities, and we expect that demand to continue growing. In a sense, the field of curriculum architecture is today where the field of data science was 15 years ago. It took a little while for the world to recognize that just about every organization could benefit from having Data Scientists on staff. We believe that soon it will become clear that just about every major company, academic institution, and government agency would benefit from having Curriculum Architects on staff as well.

To help our community prepare for the Curriculum Architect roles that exist today and those that will become available tomorrow, we’ve created a program for experienced and aspiring educators to hone their skills and become more effective teachers. With this program, we hope to share what we know and make progress toward increasing access to education worldwide.