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The Evolution and Future of Bootcamp Education Models

The Lab is looking at bootcamps as a potential model for career pathways beyond coding. As the bootcamp movement grows in tech, it presents a range of possibilities for industries like healthcare and hospitality. Iron Yard, a bootcamp based in DC, presents a compelling model, given that 73% of their graduates report being employed full-time in a job requiring the skills learned at bootcamp. We’ve asked Brian LeDuc, the former DC campus director for The Iron Yard, to help us understand the essential ingredients and trends for this emerging model of post-secondary education. 

With 73% of bootcamp graduates finding a job within months of completion, what role might they play in the future of higher ed?

With watchful eyes on the emergence of coding bootcamps over the last 4 years, many wonder what impact this new model might have on traditional higher education.  Seeing opportunities, some universities are partnering or building their own, while others wonder if there might be other industries ripe for similar disruption. Notably intertwined is an exploration around the core values of post-secondary education, and whether the emergence of bootcamps more broadly indicates a shift away from degree programs to those focused on skill development.

While these fast-paced, immersive, flexible programs fill a critical need in the high-growth industry of software development, their successful application in other workforce development initiatives must similarly be thoughtfully aligned to their target industries.

As a higher education administrator, student success consultant, and now campus director for a coding bootcamp, there are a few design criteria for consideration to qualify the application of “bootcamp” models for education delivery in other industries or contexts. Rather than consider the specific industries or application of “bootcamp” models of education delivery, let’s first explore the design criteria that set apart the rapid expansion of code schools.

  • Coding bootcamps focus on discrete, demonstrable skills sets and their larger thematic competencies. Over the course of a student’s experience, students not only learn the appropriate syntax for the particular coding language that their course is focused on, but also how to approach problems, breaking large, complex technical requirements into their component parts and creating a solution that effectively addresses the core need in an applied project. Perhaps most notably, learning assessment in software engineering is as concrete as code working, or not. Given these underlying principles, any bootcamp derivation must involve discrete knowledge transfer with clearly demonstrable mastery.
  • Coding bootcamps serve students by representing industry. Founded in project-based apprenticeships led by industry veterans, the emergent curriculum across code schools reflects the latest trends in technology applied in a hands-on learning environment. In fact, many bootcamps engage local technology companies to hyper-customize their curricular focus, soliciting feedback on the industry needs and trends in relation to student preparedness to ensure that graduates are prepared with the critical industry needs.
  • Coding bootcamps simulate the workplace wherever possible. From hiring full-time instructors straight from industry to assisting students in acclimating to technology platforms that mimic their workflow to discussing industry trends and wearing hoodies to work, the bootcamp model has positioned itself as a workplace surrogate, building strong habits from students in their working styles, habits, and knowledge. During weekly soft-skill development sessions, bootcamp administrators and instructors help students to discern their ideal work culture, prepare their portfolios, and explore emerging industry-related topics.  
  • Coding bootcamps alleviate a substantive, identified, workforce gap that is met with openness to employment pipelines for students.  In the case of coding bootcamps, their emergence aligned with drastic industry growth, which continues today (web developer jobs are predicted to grow much faster than average at a rate of 27%).  With this incredible need for talent, alongside the tangible ability for graduates to present their knowledge, skills, and experience, technology companies are beginning to unsurprisingly reconsider the minimum expectations of new recruits.

And while these characteristics serve as a set of foundational tenets of bootcamp models for education, it is likely that successful adaptations of the model for other industries are more likely an augmentation of these practices within the context of either industry or higher education, rather than an independent disruption of either system in its entirety.  

In fact, it’s worth noting that given the recent acknowledgement of bootcamps by the federal government through the EQUIP program, as accreditation and evaluation standards continue to formalize and federal dollars enter into equation, the evolution of what we know as bootcamps is far from over.

Considering the attributes that have resulted in the rapid rise of the coding bootcamp, what other industries would you consider ripe for similar innovations?

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