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nanodegree also nano-degree

noun [countable]

a course of study which is much shorter than a university course and focuses on the skills you need for a job, especially computer-related skills

'Nano-Degrees as a New Model to Integrate into Higher Education … Last year, AT&T and the online educational organization Udacity teamed up to offer a nano-degree that directly trains students for a job with AT&T.'

Forbes 19th January 2015

If you've always fancied the idea of having the word 'degree' on your CV, but never had the opportunity or inclination to invest three or more years of your life (and possibly a good deal of money) in higher education, then the new concept of a nanodegree might be just the thing for you.

the core principle of the nanodegree is that it's vocationally focussed, and not necessarily a one-off qualification but something which people might acquire several of in their working lifetime

As well as the inevitable financial investment, a conventional university degree involves committing to several years of intensive study in an area which may have little or no relevance to the career you eventually decide upon. For some, there's therefore greater appeal in an educational concept which is less time-consuming, cheaper, and prepares you more specifically for a job – enter the nanodegree.

A nanodegree is a course of study which can be completed in less than twelve months and, as you might expect, the related tuition centres on online learning materials rather than on attendance at some hallowed educational establishment. Thus far, the focus of nanodegree programmes is on preparing students for the IT industry, so typical courses include topics such as programming, web development, data analysis, etc, though advocates of the idea argue that it could easily be extended into other professional domains. The core principle of the nanodegree is that it's vocationally focussed, and not necessarily a one-off qualification but something which people might acquire several of in their working lifetime – or, to use the proposed terminology, a 'stackable' degree. A particular benefit of the nanodegree concept is therefore its flexibility, with people who wish to change careers having the opportunity to 'stack' a number of different qualifications during their working lives.

Background – nanodegree

The nanodegree is the brainchild of Udacity, a web-based education provider. The idea of vocational study, a course which targets students for a particular job or trade, is nothing new of course, but the new methods of delivery afforded by online learning environments make such courses much cheaper and easier to do. It therefore looks likely that the nanodegree, or at least the principle it represents, will be an increasingly appealing option in years to come.

The word nanodegree follows in the footsteps of a number of expressions which reflect the way the digital revolution has influenced educational concepts. Other examples include mobile learning, learning via hand-held devices like tablets, mobile phones etc, blended learning, in which students use a combination of classroom and online learning methods, and MOOC, an acronym for massive open online course describing a free, web-based course involving a large number of students. The MOOC has even morphed into the COOC, a counterpart in which the massive is replaced by a smaller community.

The prefix nano- first appeared in the late 1940s and is derived from the Greek word nanos meaning 'dwarf'. It was initially restricted to use in scientific contexts and units of measurement (meaning 'billionth' e.g. nanosecond, nanometre), but over time has acquired the popular figurative sense of 'extremely small', as illustrated by nanobreak, another recently-coined expression which refers to a very short, one-night holiday.

by Kerry Maxwell, author of Brave New Words

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This article was first published on 24th March 2015.

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