Search site matches students with online courses

SkilledUp helps students sift through hundreds of online course options.

With a little help from low-cost online courses and tutorials, Nick Gidwani watched two interns go from making $8 an hour to snagging six-figure jobs.

Gidwani, who launched a new site called on Aug. 21, said free and fee-based web-based classes that help employees show expertise in their field have long been undervalued by young people competing for jobs in the country’s slumping economy. SkilledUp, he said, would help workers find the proper online training with a no-hassle web search.

SkilledUp has 115 online education options available in its search engine – a number expected to grow by 10 every day in the coming weeks, including courses from Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) sites like Udacity and Coursera.

SkilledUp will also include little known, high quality web-based classes that charge about $30 a month, but aren’t immediately visible in a casual Google search. The website has positioned itself as a search engine for workers who see education as a means to a higher paycheck.

“If education doesn’t have [return on investment], it probably doesn’t deserve to be called education,” Gidwani said. “There are so many kids out there earning seven bucks an hour who can have a decent life in a short period of time. … And this is one way to achieve that.”

Earning an online credential or badge – showing an employer that you’ve mastered certain skills – can be the difference between working for near minimum wage right out of college, and earning a decent living, Gidwani said.

Even at companies run by people who aren’t familiar with online credential-based classes, completing a course can separate an applicant from the field.

“If someone is young and they took the initiative to learn something themselves, and it’s a skill that I value, that’s a key differentiator,” Gidwani said. “If someone has a badge, that is a shortcut for me to decide the person knows what they’re doing.”

With thousands of free and low-cost courses available, employees – including recent college graduates – have had a tough time finding online courses worth taking. Narrowing legitimate options, Gidwani said, is the only way to ensure students aren’t wasting their time or money on credential-based online classes.

In his earlier private sector work, Gidwani said two interns he hired at $12 an hour took a series of programming and marketing courses and cashed in with high-paying jobs just months later.

“There are so many kids graduating these days who are smart and really computer savvy, but don’t really have any skills that translate on Day One,” he said. “So many people spend $100,000 on a college education and don’t have much to show on the first day of work. That’s unfortunate.”

SkilledUp is paid by the site that offers an online course, if and when the student signs up to take the course through a search on the SkilledUp website.

Free and low-cost courses offered by websites like Coursera and Udacity have moved closer to higher education’s mainstream since a group of major universities announced in July that they would soon offer MOOCs, although most universities would not offer course credit.

The University of Washington, however, will offer credit upon completion of some Coursera classes.

UW officials, since the school’s Coursera partnership was announced July 17, have touted the university’s decision to offer course credit, while other schools will give certificates to people who complete their Cousera classes.

UW’s credit-bearing Coursera offerings – expected to be available during the 2012-13 academic year — will include applied mathematics program in scientific computing computer science courses, some focusing on programming. UW currently offers 17 online graduate master’s degrees online, along with 38 online certificate programs in a laundry list of career fields.

But before the school’s Coursera course selections are mistaken for free college classes, UW administrators want online learners to know that taking the credit-bearing classes does not lead to admittance.

David Szatmary, vice provost of UW’s educational outreach, said UW is making its course content available for credit on Coursera because campus decision makers and professors are comfortable with the shift toward web-based learning, and don’t see MOOCs as a usurper of higher education’s status quo.

“If an anxiety exists, it’s because it’s new and it’s untested and all of the elements and possibilities haven’t come out yet,” Szatmary said of Courera and similar MOOC sites, like edX and the Khan Academy. “It’s just anxiety over something that’s new and unfamiliar. And as these MOOCs go forward, I think they will be part of the higher education landscape, but it’s not going to replace undergraduate education or a master’s degree education.”