As of fall 2020, Georgia Tech’s online master’s in computer science (OMSCS) isn’t offered through Udacity anymore but rather through Canvas, the university’s learning management system. This transition has been a long time in the making. As an OMSCS student myself, I saw it first hand. Here’s what happened.
OMSCS was developed jointly by Georgia Tech and Udacity, and was launched in Spring 2014. It was the first MOOC-based degree program. And it has grown to become the largest master’s degree program in the US and, possibly, the world — OMSCS has over 10k students.
Initially, Georgia Tech provided all the academic aspects, including faculty, administration, and formal assessments. Meanwhile, Udacity helped produce the courses and host them. But over the years, Udacity’s role shrank as Georgia Tech began to independently handle more aspects of the program.
Changes at Udacity
By the time OMSCS launched in spring 2014, Udacity had started pivoting away from academia and toward industry. In Nanodegrees, Udacity’s signature microcredential, academic subjects were deemphasized in favor of vocational ones, and university partnerships gave way to industry partnerships.
For example, thanks to a Udacity scholarship, I’m taking the Machine Learning Nanodegree. It’s a long-established Nanodegree and I’d heard good things about it: that it offered a well-rounded overview of machine learning. But last year, the Nanodegree was refreshed in partnership with AWS. At times, the new version has felt excessively promotional to me.
This pivot was also reflected in leadership changes. In April 2016, Udacity co-founder Sebastian Thrun, a Stanford professor who’d been instrumental to OMSCS’ creation, stepped down as CEO of Udacity. He was succeeded by Vishal Makhijani, a career executive who’d held top-level positions at companies such as Yahoo and Yandex.
Udacity’s relentless quest for profitability has led them to drastically increase prices. In 2019, they released eight times fewer free courses than in 2015, and their Nanodegrees cost four times more, as noted in Class Central’s end-of-year analysis.
By contrast, Georgia Tech’s OMSCS has remained rooted in academia and committed to its motto of “accessibility through affordability and technology.” With trajectories increasingly at odds, OMSCS began to feel out of place on Udacity’s platform.
Changes at Georgia Tech
Back when OMSCS was envisioned, MOOCs had only been popularized a couple of years prior by companies such as Udacity. So an advantage for Georgia Tech of partnering with Udacity was to benefit from their rare MOOC production know-how and strong visual identity.
But over time, Georgia Tech developed its own approach to MOOC creation and used it to launch two other MOOC-based degree programs: OMS Analytics and OMS Cybersecurity. This time, the programs were offered in partnership with edX rather than Udacity.
In spring 2019, Georgia Tech finished phasing out its ageing learning management system (LMS), T-Square, in favor of a more modern solution, Canvas. By integrating a video player, Kaltura, the new LMS paved the way for Georgia Tech to deliver its courses directly.
Note that by then, OMSCS had over 8k students and over 1k graduates per year. So while other degree programs might have needed to partner with MOOC providers to attract students, OMSCS had enough pull to stand on its own. And by cutting out the middleman, Georgia Tech would save money. Early documents showed Udacity’s initial cut being as high as 40%.
In spring 2020, Georgia Tech began porting their Udacity courses to Canvas. Existing courses, such as Computer Vision, would remain available on Udacity as MOOCs. But new courses, such as AI, Ethics, and Society or Deep Learning, would be released directly on Canvas. OMSCS offers over 40 courses, many available as MOOCs.
As of fall 2020, all OMSCS courses are delivered through Canvas. Georgia Tech has stopped creating Udacity accounts for new OMSCS students, bringing to a close the seven-year partnership between the university and the online course provider.
Class Central has been tracking Udacity’s evolution over the years. To learn more about the online course provider, head to our end-of-year analyses: