I graduated from the Learning, Design, and Technology (LDT) MA program at the Stanford Graduate School of Education in 2011. Picking a graduate program is tough, and picking an ed tech graduate program is especially hard since it's an awfully diffuse field. So here are a few thoughts that might help any information-seekers.

What do people do after LDT?

This is a hard question, because the paths that lead people to LDT are so varied. I'd say that the most common (still not that common) path is to work in design, research, strategy, curriculum, product management, or UX (user experience) for an organization that somehow has both an education component and a tech component. Another thing people do is to work as a teacher or tech integration person in districts or schools. Another option is to start your own company (see: Motion Math, Launchpad Toys, ChalkSchools, to name a few startups founded by LDT alums). Some alumni work in policy, some at foundations. More than a few of us have gotten research jobs or fellowships to continue working on areas of interest. And there are always folks who go straight to a Ph.D. (though you need to start writing that statement of purpose pretty much as soon as you start LDT).

Just know that, since the program is short, what you do afterward is strongly informed by the skillset you came in with. If you came in as an engineer, you're not going to instantly be employable as a curriculum designer; if you were a graphic designer before you came, you probably won't metamorphose into a first grade teacher. What you will learn is how people in other fields think, and how to think alongside them about education.

I don't have any education background. Is that okay?

Yup. What you do need is an interest in exploring learning-related questions using education methodology. The classes you take can be scattered throughout different schools, but the program's home base in the Graduate School of Education shows in the core seminar: you learn to design for and evaluate learning outcomes. So it behooves you to have an interest in education that's somehow more specific and critical than some bland "education's important because it's our future" line – and you need to be interested in learning about learning, not just learning about education as a business opportunity. You certainly don't have to have been a classroom teacher, or even a camp counselor or tutor, to have given a lot of thought to why you're interested enough in education to add an education degree as the new top line on your resume.

I don't have any coding background. Is that okay?

Sure. There's a lot of prototyping you can do with post-its, Keynote, very simple HTML, and other low-resolution tools. If you do have a coding background, though, you will be very, very popular once the time rolls around to choose partners for your MA projects. Project teams with no coders often hire a student or professional as a developer, which definitely gets complicated. Me, I chose to learn to program during LDT (CS 106A with Mehran), and my MA project definitely shows that – it's buggy as hell. Great for my learning; not so great if I'd been trying to launch my project as a startup.

What do some people dislike about LDT?

First, it feels really, really short. I think it'd feel a lot more educationally complete if it were 2 years. As it is, you feel launched out as soon as you've started. There's no time to really get to the bottom of whatever question you're interested in; the most you can hope for is learning how you might go about answering that question. Because you are fitting 3 quarters of an internship and a MA project into 12 months, the program probably will feel less focused and rigorous, in the academic sense, than the last couple years of many 4-year undergrad degrees. (On the other hand, if LDT had been 2 years, I wouldn't have been able to afford it, since I was a classroom teacher. So there you go.)

Second, you really need to carve your career path yourself. This isn't a negative for everybody, but if you want a job to be handed to you upon graduation and don't feel like giving the matter too much thought, LDT is not a good fit for you. Spending a year in LDT broadens you, stretches you, and helps you participate in fascinating new conversations, but there is no such thing as a Professional Learning/Design/Technologist. You may well graduate less clear about your career path than when you started.

However, for me, this sense of transition was a sign that my tuition money was hard at work. Why would you go to Stanford instead of just ripping through Codecademy and cobbling together a self-study course from MOOCs and reading lists? Because you want to be stimulated, challenged, and changed, yes? Because you want to learn about jobs you didn't know existed and ways of thinking and working that hadn't occurred to you, right?

The Graduate School of Education has a decent career services office, but the career "aha" moments often happen during late-night studio conversations with your classmates – and the connections that get you cool jobs are very likely to come from those classmates, too.

Okay, now what are the best things about LDT?

So much! Oh goodness, I loved this program. Here are a few of the reasons why.

  • Bias towards creating and doing, rather than just summarizing and analyzing. You leave really feeling like getting off your butt, not just wringing your hands. There's a clear-eyed positivity about what you and your cohort can do for education.
  • A small, smart interdisciplinary cohort. The social and academic bonds grow really strong over the course of the year. You'll have new colleagues for life. LDT is the only education MA program at Stanford to have a dedicated studio space, and hanging out in the studio helps you get to know your cohort quickly.
  • Access to related programs outside education but within Stanford (d.school, HCI, product design, business, psychology, CS, to name a few).
  • Flexibility in course selection. You can take courses almost anywhere at Stanford, though for obvious reasons law, business, and medicine are not as receptive to students outside their schools. Lots of programs say you can take classes outside education, but check that fine print. LDT really gives you the run of the place.
  • Location in Silicon Valley. A lot of the interesting tech trends feel very local. If you want to hang around in the Bay Area, LDT will definitely help you get set up.
  • Karin is in charge of most aspects of the program and teaches several classes, and she is fab.

Happy to talk more about any of this if you have questions – email me at here@molly.is. Do know that I’m not on any kind of admissions committee and cannot tell you to how to get in; I do teach at Stanford, but I’m writing this as an alum, and this is purely my personal opinion. I posted this because picking a graduate program is one of the most important career decisions you’ll make, and I like helping folks find a good fit.