Today I was given early access to Flatiron School’s new online learning site Learn.co. I played around with it for about an hour and was very impressed. Here are my initial thoughts:
Flatiron Is Free*
I think Flatiron is now the first coding boot camp to open source their entire curriculum, learning platform, and video lectures. This is a really big deal, and is essentially the first coding bootcamp MOOC. While certainly cheaper than college, and a good investment in the long term, coding bootcamps are still very expensive. Flatiron School charges $15,000 in tuition, not to mention the fact that you need to forgo income for 4-6 months and pay living expenses in NYC. That’s quite a big opportunity cost. But now that everything is out there on the internet for free, anyone can theoretically go through the program on their own schedule, in their own location, and at no cost.
In Person Class vs Learn.co
Obviously the in person experience is still better for those who want to make a career change. There are tutors and classmates to help you out, networking opportunities in the NYC tech scene, and tremendous assistance in finding a job. Also the level of commitment it takes to put your life on hold and plunk down a bunch of money can’t really be replicated by passively taking an online class. That probably explains why MOOCs only have a 7% completion rate, while Flatiron has a 98% graduation rate. I suspect Learn.co will similarly be started by many, but completed by few. However even a small completion rate off of a big base could grow the number of Flatiron ‘alums’ exponentially. It will be interesting to see how this plays out, and how the in person classes and online program co-evolve.
Amazing What Flatiron Has Accomplished
The Flatiron School started just two and a half years ago. Back then it was just Avi teaching an extended version of his skillshare class to a single room of 20 eager learners. The school began to hire some of those students he taught to build software to help education the new students going through the program. Over time the new students were using this software, testing it, fixing bugs, and improving it to the point that it is now ready for public release. One person teaching a few hundred people how to build software that have now created software that will help thousands (and maybe millions) of people learn how to build software. It’s very meta, and very impressive.
Definately A Beta Product
Having said that, this is definitely a beta product. After installing the software on my computer, it rewrote my .bash_profile, and I lost the ability to run node on my computer at work today. The login on the desktop is kind of clunky, it’s very hard to learn lessons out of order, and there isn’t a way to speed up videos. But this is to be expected - as Reid Hoffman once said, “If you are not embarrassed by the first version of your product, you've launched too late.” - so these oversights mean that Flatiron hasn’t waited too long to release the product.
This is Bigger Than Programming
So far Flatiron has been very narrowly focused on teaching programming skills. They have done a good job of diversifying their educational offerings beyond their initial web class by adding an iOS class, night classes, high school classes, and even some remote classes. However all of their classes are still about programming. The name Learn.co and the tagline “Together we can learn anything” are on contrary are very, very broad. Knowing Adam Enbar, this isn’t a mistake, but a preview of what’s to come. What exact direction this takes remains to be seen yet, but I think they are swinging for the fences - and trying to be a major disruptor of education in general.
Monetization Must Happen
Flatiron has raised a ton of money - a $5.5 million Series A followed by a $9 million Series B. Despite the very positive social benefits that Flatiron has brought to the NYC tech community, these financing rounds were not charitable contributions. These investors saw an opportunity to make a lot of money, and there will be enormous pressure for Flatiron to deliver on this hope. While Learn.co is free, it will be interesting to see how Flatiron leverages it to make money. At the end of the day, the school still makes its money primarily from tuition. Perhaps this learning platform will allow Flatiron to scale in terms of how many students it can accept to in person classes. Or not - after all it’s hard to say what the future holds, but I’ll be keeping a close eye.
1. 2014 Flatiron School Annual Report ↩