Education technology company OpenLearning is targeting non-technical working professionals with a series of three online microcredential courses that teach fundamental computer-science concepts with no prerequisites required.

The three modules – entitled Programming and Computational Thinking, Data Science and Algorithms, and Software Engineering and Cloud Computing – each run over 12 weeks part-time through the company’s new portal.

Only the programming course was available at launch, with cohorts of students set to begin in October and February after paying $750 each, but the other two courses are expected soon as word spreads.

“There are hundreds of online courses that will promise to teach programming with minimal effort,” the course description reads, “but they often recycle content from YouTube and only scratch the surface of coding…. If you are motivated to learn real computer science and programming skills, then you’ve come to the right place.”

Experts contributing to the courses’ development include several university academics as well as Uber senior software engineer Prashant Varanasi and Airbus computer-vision expert Cameron Cooke.

“Our society is increasingly dependent on technology and many of the new jobs being created today require, or benefit from, an understanding of computer science,” said OpenLearning founder and CEO Adam Brimo.

“CS101 will bridge the computer science skills gap and is in line with OpenLearning’s focus on delivering transformative education in collaboration with educators and industry.”

Like normal learning, but shorter

Although the Internet has been flooded with online courses on every imaginable topic, targeting microcredentials specifically at non-technical people represents a growing effort to bridge the gap between technology-focused skills training and the non-technical people key to filling the persistent ICT skills gap.

Australia’s technology workforce added 33,400 workers last year despite the challenges of COVID, the ACS Australia’s Digital Pulse 2021 report found, with ACS chief executive officer Rupert Grayston noting that “if the government wants to meet its new target of under 5 per cent unemployment, reskilling and upskilling the workforce for technology roles is a vital part of the solution.”

OpenLearning’s new effort joins an increasingly crowded field of micro-credentials courses that have each taken somewhat different approaches to modularising key ICT concepts – particularly as the pandemic forced training providers to remotely deliver training that is more flexible and modular than ever.

The ACS, for its part, last year launched microcredentials recognising skills in a range of information-security related areas.

Last month, Microsoft and cybersecurity industry-development firm AustCyber partnered to launch a CSSPIF-funded Cyber Security Traineeship program that will use microcredentials, group training providers and corporate mentors to lever 200 people into cyber careers by 2024.

Victoria’s La Trobe University took a similar tack with a series of microcredentials and industry placements also designed to chip away at the cyber skills gap.

And Telstra, working with the University of Technology Sydney (UTS), last year launched microcredentials in data analysis, data analytics, and machine learning – and added microcredentials in areas like software-defined networking and product management with university partners including RMIT Online and the UNSW Canberra Cyber Centre of Excellence.

Telstra had put more than 800 employees through the weeks-long courses by the end of 2020 – including network engineer Stephanie Virgato, who lauded a microcredential experience that allowed her to attend machine-learning classes during work hours and gave her new skills that she has already applied to her day job.

“The pacing of the course worked well, with a good balance of online interactive sessions and course material,” she said.

"And while the final assessment required some extra weekend work, overall I was able to manage the course quite easily alongside work."