Learning is big business. It seems that the traditional systems of education have long been established and that private-college education can be a cash cow. However, with those formal education systems being government regulated, it should not be a surprise that many different types of learning platforms have emerged to meet the growing need of learning. These platforms range in delivery mediums and all of us probably have our personal favorite.
This post is part of a series of posts that take a look at the learning marketplace. While we certainly won’t cover every specific facet, I do want to discuss the online platforms that exist and how you might tap into them – both to learn, and to teach.
For some quick context, I have been teaching for a college online for the past four years. All my interactions with my students have been through a Video Live chat, phone calls, and e-mail. I am all too familiar with the accreditation process of the Department of Education. Additionally, I would say that most of what I use today in my professional career, I started learning from online platforms such as Lynda.com and DigitalTutors.com. To some extent, I have them to thank for my career. Finally, I have been crafting my own online courses, and will refer to them often as I talk about the different platforms available to learn from.
Before we tackle our first platform, I wanted to share how I like to explain learning; I consider it a three-step process. The first is what we traditionally think of when we think of “learning” something new. It’s the collection of raw information from a resource. For example, when I lecture to my class, I am executing this first step in my students learning. Another example would be reading a book on the basics of Photoshop. This is where tools and methods are explained. The second step is the actual application of knowledge from the learner on their own. Where they take the tools they have learned and apply them. The final step is the demonstration of knowledge to a master, receiving feedback and validation. This is an important step because it gives the learner a chance to be corrected. You can think of this as “learning through mentorship.” Another example: when I correct assignments, I do not simply slap a grade or award points onto a submission, but rather, I go into detail about what worked and what didn’t. If something is not working for a student, I talk them through the process I would use.
Another quick way to break it down is this: Step one is about building “knowledge nodes,” step two is about forming connections from node to node, and step three is the validation that those nodes are connected properly, and if not, getting it corrected.
When we examine the existing platforms, it is important to identify which of these steps are being properly engaged, and which are not.
The first platform I want to discuss is Udemy. Udemy is sort of the “every persons” learning platform. Students can go there to learn about all sorts of things, ranging from your first days in Photoshop to learning the basics of Woodworking. As a Teacher, it is hands down the easiest of the platforms to engage. Anyone can sign up to become a teacher for a course that will be listed as free. If you would like to charge for your course, there is a short, painless vetting period, where a Udemy administrator will validate your credentials. They are not looking for teaching experience, but rather than you have some domain knowledge on the topics you would like to teach.
Having gone through the process of becoming a “Paid Instructor,” I can say that it was very quick and without incident. From there, you are given online tools to start building-out your class. They are familiar, easy to master tools that help you populate your course with information that you create. It’s video driven, so you do need to have a bit of knowledge on properly creating videos. And if you don’t, there is a Udemy course for that! Udemy themselves encourages the creation of additional content to engage multiple learner types. For example, not only did I post video lessons for my first course, but I also created a written version for users to download as well. The content has organization tools to curate the content into chapters that contain lessons. Finally, there are tools to help showcase your class and other administrative side tasks, such as pricing your class (ranges of courses can be anywhere from $5 – $199 and beyond).
Outside of that is an interesting mix of tasks and information. Udemy encourages you to join “Udemy Studio,” a Facebook group of Udemy instructors. The purpose is to share information and ask questions around how courses are constructed. The other thing Udemy talks a great deal about is the marketing of your course. Whoa. Wait. What?
That’s right, you are solely responsible for getting your name out there. While Udemy does take an active role in promoting some courses, it accounts for very little of the courses that make it to their market. And in doing so, usually takes a bigger cut of your course sale (which starts at 50% of the course sale). So you are on your own unless you are able to get noticed by Udemy, and willing to take a smaller cut of the revenue pie. Which brings up the next reality of Udemy.
Udemy learners are accustomed to getting discounted or free courses, to the point of which Udemy themselves have written a few blog posts talking about how to “market your class.” These posts are all about self-promoting through your networks (which is something everyone should do when releasing any product) but also creating and distributing coupon codes. Having gone through the process covered in their blog posts, I will certainly agree that it helps bring in students. The reason I bring this up is because if you start looking at classes, you will see that one might have 1,000+ students and is charging $60 a head. You might instantly thing ‘Wow, $60k! Even half of that is great!’ The reality is that the instructor did not pull in $30k in this example. Chances are, they brought in somewhere in the neighborhood of $1-5k.
Your typical coupon code that gains traction will be around 75-100% off the course. Because, honestly, who can resist the big tag that says “90% off”? At that point it could be just about anything and it would at least grab your attention. From there, you will lose another 50% off the net sale. So offering a 90% off coupon for your course, will allow you to capture about 5% of the course list price. Then you will need to claim it on your taxes, so there is that, too. Unofficially documented is the practice of marking your course up, only to heavily discount it.
Circling back to the Learner perspective, Udemy can also be hit-or-miss on engaging the three steps of learning I covered earlier. There is no doubt that the first step is hit – the teaching of raw skills. But the application is up to the learner, and if the instructor gives no clear “here is how to practice,” it might be up to the learners themselves to figure that out. The final step is also hit or miss, it really depends on the engagement level of the instructor and whether or not they are using some of the non-required tools (such as quizzing). I reach out to my student who I know are nearing course completion to see if there is anything I can help with or take a look at. But this is a rare practice among Udemy instructors, as there is no accountability around the practice. The tools themselves for engaging students are also very primitive. The best I can do is scroll through an un-organized list of students and my only option is to send them a Udemy message.
The point I want to make here is that Udemy is a fantastic platform for those who need a low-entry barrier into the educational market. This could come from lack of experience, or perhaps some of the other platforms don’t work for your course idea. It gives you a venue for online education, free of charge, but if you start making money, you will have to share (a lot). If you are looking to capture huge returns in the educational space, Udemy is probably not the place you want to focus. If learner outcomes are your focus, Udemy has some tools, but they are certainly limited, so once again Udemy is probably not the platform to focus on.
So where do you go? Well that is a question we will explore more in future posts, covering the different platforms such as Skillshare and Pathwright. But now would be a good time to start thinking about what you want to get out of bringing your knowledge online. Are you looking to make money or simply enjoy teaching? Do you have a network of potential students built or are you starting from scratch? Are you looking to focus on a small group of learners and see results, or offer the information to a broader group with less interaction and validation? As we dive deeper into the platforms and their focuses, having the answers to these questions will inform what your education monetization plan looks like.