16 AprIf you build it, they will come: Udemy to put online education in your hands

We all know a little something about something that lots of others know nothing about. But what if you could share that thing you know more easily? And with a global community that’s looking to learn about this topic of yours? This is exactly what Udemy makes possible.

I had the chance to interview Gagan Biyani, Co-Founder and President of Udemy, about his beta service. When Gagan describes his service he shares that “we want to be the WordPress of online education”; that is, to enable the typical user to produce and distribute their educational content without first needing a degree in computer science. The concept is powerful and from what I can tell, theirs is a unique offering on the web.

Udemy offers community features such as user profiles, course discussion boards and the ability to share courses on many major social media and news outlets such as Facebook, Twitter, Digg and others. Users can create a ‘course’ that others can subscribe to, so these courses are capable of being an ongoing project that users can engage with over time as they expand.

Currently all courses are free but in the next few months you’ll have the ability to charge a fee for your course–opening the door to earning an income from what you’re sharing. Something many people would jump at the chance for–still it remains to be seen if users will pay for courses. My guess is that monetization of courses will depend largely on the type of content, the quality of the information and the perceived authority of the author.

Let’s hear more from Gagan:

What is your background? What did you do before?
I grew up in Silicon Valley and have always been involved in technology. My dad was an engineer and so is my brother. So, when I went to Berkeley for undergrad in Economics, I already sort of knew I wanted to get into the tech industry. After graduating, I went to Accenture to be a strategy consultant for high-tech companies. 6 months after I joined Accenture, I was bored out of my mind and started reading TechCrunch religiously. Pretty soon, I was writing for TechCrunch’s mobile site, MobileCrunch, and enrolled in the Founder Institute. And the rest is history.

How did Udemy come to be?
Udemy was started by a group of brilliant developers in Turkey about 2 years ago. Eren Bali and Oktay Caglar were licensed to build a learning platform on a contract basis. After building it, they actually owned all the IP and decided to make it free to the public. Turkey wasn’t the optimal place to do this so they spent the last year or so moving to the Silicon Valley. Eren joined the Founder Institute and brought me on during the institute as a co-founder.

How would you describe Udemy? What is your vision for the platform?
Udemy wants to be the best place to teach and learn online. It’s simple, really. We want to be the WordPress of online education. The same way that Blogger and LiveJournal democratized online publishing, Udemy’s goal is to make it fast, easy and free to publish online educational content. If you’re the best knitter in the world, we want you to use Udemy to teach knitting. The same goes for Photoshop, Wrestling, Speech and Debate, Poker and other markets.

What content and courses would you most like to see created on the platform?
We are a content agnostic platform. That means we don’t want to dictate what type of courses are created on Udemy, as long as smart people are using our product to teach others. If you’re smart and other people like hearing you talk or teach, you should be able to use Udemy, and we’d be happy to have you!

It appears that Udemy is strictly a free service. Are there plans to offer a paid level of service? How do you plan to monetize the site?
Our goal is for Udemy to remain free for anyone to create courses. In the future, educators can make money by charging for their courses on Udemy and we will do a revenue-share with them (15-30%). That aligns our interests with those of our educators, which is extremely important for us.

What can you tell us about where you are taking Udemy?
Udemy will be the best platform available for teaching online. We provide multiple tools such as uploading videos, posting presentations, writing blog posts, and hosting virtual classroom sessions. Over time, you will see the list of tools increase (making tests/quizzes, tracking of students), but they will center around the same goal: providing a one-stop shop for online education. In the future, we don’t want anyone to have to hack a blog or create their own online education website; they will use Udemy for free and then spend their time on what they do best: teaching.

What type of community features are available on Udemy?
Udemy enables you to privately message other users and there’s a discussion board on each course so that users can interact with the instructor. In the future, you’ll be able to rate and comment on courses so the community will grow in that way as well. We look forward to seeing you on Udemy and thanks for your time, Josh!

As a whole Udemy is an interesting offering with promise. I’m interested to see where things go with it from here. If you have some subject matter that really interests you and would like the opportunity to teach to a worldwide community, I’d encourage you to take a look at creating a course on Udemy to see if it might be the right choice.

For more ways to engage with your community and teach what you love online, follow me on Twitter or subscribe to this blog.

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Joshua Guffey

Project Manager at Dependable Data Services
Father. Husband. Search Marketing Professional. Conversion Optimization Consultant. Love Rumi.