What is a Bootcamp and how is it different to a self-paced course? 

 April 2, 2018

By  Peter

Bootcamps originated in the military and fitness contexts. Such bootcamps provide training with specific outcomes. They can be about learning how to overcome an obstacle course, navigate through terrain without a map and GPS or losing weight etc. Regardless of the objectives, bootcamps emphasise intensity, focus and, above all, commitment to complete the program to achieve the results.

We use the term “bootcamp” to describe more peaceful learning activities that also share these three characteristics. Instead of a physical trainer challenging you to do one more round of pushups, an instructor is helping you to complete a hands-on electronics project. Instead of doing a learning activity whenever you happen to find a bit of free time, you commit a fixed number of hours every day or every week. Instead of juggling multiple competing and mutually distracting tasks, you focus on a single task, for the amount of time you have agreed at the beginning of the bootcamp.

Instead of losing 10 Kg of unwanted weight, or learning outback survival methods, you complete an educational bootcamp with specific, demonstrable skills that you can go on to use, or teach to others, immediately.

Self-paced online education is revolutionising the way we learn. Having access to high-quality content on demand, on virtually any topic imaginable, means that learning does not need to be confined to specific places and times. Lifelong learning is now possible even for those of us with very hectic lifestyles because we can learn anytime, anyplace.

A high-stakes learner is one who has specific learning objectives and needs those objectives to be met within a specific, usually short, amount of time.

Although self-paced online education is extremely useful in multiple scenarios, two attributes make them less suitable to high-stakes learning objectives: low completion rates and limited access to expert instructors.

I have compiled data from my online courses, and I have learned that, only around 10% of students that start a course finish it within a one month period.

This is not necessarily a bad thing. In my conversations with students, I learned that they often enrol in an online course because they have specific things that they want to learn. They don’t need to complete the full course to meet those objectives, but only part of it. What I have also learned is that because learning is self-paced, with limited social competitive pressures and poor planning, progress is slow.

Learning is certainly not done in isolation. In fact, the best learning is done in environments explicitly organised to support performance. High-Performance Learning Environments are spaces that are designed to help learners. Students commit to a high level of excellence in their learning but also to support the learning of their colleagues. As in a military-style bootcamp teamwork is essential for individual success, similarly, in a purely educational bootcamp, the role of the team and trainer is a function of an individual’s success.

Self-paced online courses also suffer from very high ratios of students and instructors. In courses with 50,000 students, there may be a single instructor. Even if only a fraction of these students is engaged with the course at any time, it is still challenging for the instructor to offer the type of support that a high-stakes learner needs.

Online bootcamps are designed to address those two issues. An online bootcamp brings together a small number of participants who learn as a team. They support each other, and a healthy competitive spirit emerges to add strength to the individual internal drive to succeed. The instructor is part of the team, and because the student to instructors ratio is small, it is possible to devote significantly more resources to the team than what is possible with a MOOC (“Massive Open >Online Course”).

Online educational bootcamps, like the ones that we offer, provide an excellent balance between the convenience of self-paced online courses and the results of a traditional face-to-face intensive seminar, at a fraction of the cost.


Peter Dalmaris is an educator, electrical engineer, electronics hobbyist, and Maker. Creator of online video courses on DIY electronics and author of three technical books, and has recently released his book Maker Education Revolution.   As a Chief Tech Explorer since 2013 at Tech Explorations, the company he founded in Sydney, Australia, Peter’s mission is to explore technology and help educate the world.  Tech Explorations offers educational courses and Bootcamps for electronics hobbyists, STEM students and STEM teachers. A life-long learner, Peter’s core skill is in explaining difficult concepts through video and text. With over 15 years of tertiary teaching experience, Peter has developed a simple yet comprehensive style in teaching that students from all around the world appreciate.  His passion for technology and in particular for the world of DIY open source hardware has been a dominant driver that has guided his personal development and his work through Tech Explorations. Peter’s current online courses have helped over 60,000 people from around the world to be better Makers. 

Peter Dalmaris

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