February 5, 2016: Friday News Roundup

Greetings from Super Bowl City! Yes, it’s a frenzy of excitement around these parts… maybe not inside the Udemy office itself, but we’re very close to party central, where football fans can get (more) pumped up for the big game. The game itself, meanwhile, will actually take place 45 miles south. But why talk about football when you can talk about important things like learning and careers?

Coding bootcamps are getting so competitive that there’s now a $3,000 prep program
Most of us are familiar with the rise of so-called bootcamps designed to fast-track aspiring programmers into their desired career. These programs tend to be very competitive and rather pricey too, averaging almost $12,000 for tuition, but as the headline says, a new cottage industry has sprung up to help applicants increase their chances for acceptance — if they have a few MORE thousand to spend.

Learning needs a makeover
It sure does! Especially at the corporate level, which is what this article is all about. The irony is that, as research shows, learning and development is increasing in importance every year, yet companies aren’t doing much to optimize it. We loved this line: “Learning is not an event but an experience.” That’s exactly the philosophy behind Udemy for Business.

Online entrepreneurship courses show popularity spike
Udemy analyzed data on students in the UK and found entrepreneurship courses have risen in the ranks to become the fifth most popular category after tech and design categories. As our CEO Dennis Yang points out, people are “feeling insecure about the traditional jobs market and want to take control of their careers, and one way they’re doing that is by starting their own businesses.”

The Open University at 45: What can we learn from Britain’s distance education pioneer?
I’d never heard of Britain’s distance learning program, Open University, before reading this article. It’s really interesting to see how they evolved from their early days broadcasting over BBC radio and television and how they’ve “tried hard to ensure that cost savings weren’t earned on the back of academic quality.” Many of the practices established by Open University continue to be relevant for today’s adult learners too.

Is America’s Education Problem Really Just a Teacher Problem?
Listen to this podcast or read the transcript, and you may be convinced (if you’re not already) that we need to change the way we evaluate and reward teachers in this country. This program walks back through history and explains how the teaching profession has changed over time, such as how in the 1800s it was viewed as a job for men and considered inappropriate for women to earn money this way.

Who’s learning on Udemy?

Hey, blog readers, have you been over to the Stories section to check out the latest student profiles? Well, you should because you’ll meet some really cool people from around the world who are changing their lives by learning. It’s interesting to see what unites them (curiosity,  determination to get ahead in their careers, and a desire enrich their personal time) as well as how they’re different (not everyone’s a natural lifelong learner).

Here are just a few Udemy students who’ve been gracious enough to tell us what motivated them to take courses online, what their learning experience on Udemy has been like, and what they’ve been able to achieve with their newly acquired skills.

Anthony Gracey-Wright (Los Angeles, USA) didn’t think he had a chance at landing his dream job until he took a Udemy course and is now working as a senior UX designer.

Haley Chiba (Bristol, UK) came to Udemy to learn how to create a webinar for her business and ended up creating a course on financial management to broaden her audience exponentially.

Mohamed Omar Dessouki (Cairo, Egypt) went from being ambivalent about learning in school to making a habit of spending time on Udemy every day to help him switch from engineering to a new career in sports management.

Kyle Truong (Ontario, Canada) escaped his insurance job and is now working as a web developer, with an eye toward becoming a MEAN stack developer.

Sean Sullivan (Ontario, Canada) updated and expanded his skill set to get back into the workforce following an accident and got a call from the president of a company who hired him as a claims manager.

What has Udemy helped you achieve? Tell us at stories@udemy.com.

A Policy Update from Udemy’s Trust & Safety Team

Udemy is dedicated to helping anyone build the life they imagine. To deliver the best learning experience to the largest number of students, our Trust & Safety team works with our community to ensure our policies continue to align with our mission.

As part of this ongoing process, we recently updated our Trust & Safety guidelines, and courses related to weaponry will no longer be allowed in our marketplace. Udemy is a diverse community, and we appreciate that not everyone is going to agree with this decision. Based on feedback from our students and instructors, we believe this change best serves our global community.

As a result of our policy change, access to all weapons-related courses will end on Friday, February 5. Students enrolled in these courses will receive an automatic full refund. We are also communicating with affected instructors directly about this policy update.

If you have questions or would like to report restricted content, please contact our Trust & Safety team at policy@udemy.com.

January 22, 2016: Friday News Roundup

How was your week? Things are busy as usual over here at Udemy HQ, but there’s always time for some thought-provoking articles.

Can we talk? A real conversation about performance management
In case you didn’t see it on the Udemy blog, check out this LinkedIn Pulse post by our own VP of People, Lisa Haugh. She explains the philosophy behind our continuous performance management process — aka, the Udemy Conversation — and how it makes better sense and yields better results than an old-fashioned, once-a-year grilling session.

Key ingredient all startups need to attract & retain top talent
One of Udemy’s investors, Sergio Monsalve, shares his perspective on why mission-driven startups have more success attracting and retaining employees. He cites Udemy as an example, describing our mission to help people worldwide build the lives they imagine for themselves through learning. Powerful stuff!

Why an ex-Google coder makes twice as much freelancing
Speaking of retaining top talent, this piece is certainly food for thought. It’s about skilled programmers who’ve left full-time jobs at large companies and are now hot commodities on the freelance market. Along with generous compensation, these coders say they prefer the autonomy, flexibility, and reduced bureaucracy of working as independents.

7 tips to build a business while working a day job
Lots of Udemy students aspire to start their own businesses. Until they get there, however, most are still relying on a paycheck. While it’s understandable that you’d lose enthusiasm for your day job while dreaming of an entrepreneurial future, this article offers some suggestions for staying grounded.

“1996: In gamble, newspapers push into on-line publishing”
Let’s end on a fun note with this look back at how, when, and why the NY Times launched its digital edition back in the mid-90s. The Internet was still mysterious and unfamiliar to most of the public then, but the smart folks at the Times knew they needed to establish a foothold early. Today, of course, the news organization is recognized as a leader in delivering innovative and informative digital experiences.

Can We Talk? A Real Conversation About Employee Performance


By Lisa Haugh, VP of People and General Counsel

shutterstock_140282743Performance reviews can strike fear in the hearts of otherwise level-headed employees. Fraught with subjectivity and judgment, reviews too often put people in the hot seat and focus on negativity — here’s a goal you missed, here’s what you’ve been doing wrong, etc.

Most human resources departments would certainly deny that this is their intention, but performance reviews are one of those deeply entrenched activities that carry on the way they’ve always been done and seem impervious to change. Overhauling the whole system sounds exhausting, so inertia takes root. Every year, you go through the same dreaded process again because “oh, hey, it’s January.”

It doesn’t have to be this way.

You really can support employee development and drive toward business goals simultaneously. In fact, the two go hand in hand — as people grow and develop, so does your business.

The Udemy Conversation

At Udemy, we knew we wanted a better approach to performance management. Transparency is among our company values, so it made sense for us to introduce a program that would open the lines of communication between a manager and direct report and keep them open. Rather than make performance reviews a one-way, once-a-year Big Deal, we’ve opted for an ongoing dialogue (we call it the Udemy Conversation) so we can make on-the-fly adjustments. With the speed of our business, we can’t wait until traditional performance review season to make critical course corrections that will yield our desired business results.

It’s impossible to establish a real connection during a once-a-year review period. It has to be an organic part of how we work together every day, in an environment where it’s safe to speak up, take risks, and innovate. We don’t want our employees to hesitate because something doesn’t conform to strict job descriptions or performance goals.

Looking Forward with Optimism

Performance management at Udemy isn’t about studying the past; it’s about building a better future. We don’t look at what people “did wrong.” We focus on what we’ve learned and how we can apply those lessons going forward so we’re more successful as individuals and as a company. And we want to move into that future together with confidence and motivation, feelings you don’t get when you’re put under the microscope and marked with a grade or number.

It was big news when Microsoft abandoned so-called forced rankings in 2013 andmore companies are ditching performance ratings, but there are still plenty out there doing the “rank and yank” thing. That’s just not who Udemy is. We benefit more from helping our employees soar with their strengths than from focusing on their shortcomings. Our position is that it’s really the fault of the manager if someone is in a role that doesn’t leverage their best skills and abilities.

Not Everyone Gets a Trophy

To be sure, we still have high standards for our employees and take action if someone isn’t delivering. Netflix has famously described its culture as being that of “a team, not a family,” and we sometimes have to change up our roster in order to keep winning too.

But, to milk the sports metaphor further, our competitive season is year-round; our vision is to grow Udemy over the course of many years into a company with thousands of employees. And that requires more nuanced decision making around who gets benched. Instead of seeing goals in black and white, where people either fulfill goals or don’t, we place outcomes on a continuum without any implied judgment.

It’s Okay to Aim High and Miss

Another important component of performance management is goal-setting. How can you assess someone’s progress if you haven’t crisply defined what they’re working toward? And yet this task can generate fear among employees too.

As with most young startups, life at Udemy moves fast. Really fast. What feels like the right goal today might be totally off-base a couple of weeks from now. Employees want to set goals that show managers they’re striving for excellence, but they don’t want to overpromise something that’s likely to change and move out of reach. And we the employer don’t want to penalize hard-workers who set their sights high; they’re exactly the type of folks we want more of!

By making goals and achievements part of our regular, ongoing conversation, there’s a lot less pressure to show up at an annual review with every goal marked as “completed,” regardless of the five zillion other things that came into play over the last 12 months. It’s great to hit a target, but lots of good things can still happen when we don’t. Open communication helps everyone understand how and why we got where we are.

Keeping it Real

Last, and most important, the conversation approach is perfectly in line with our mission as a company — to support people around the world as they work to enhance their skill sets and advance in their careers. Udemy students tell us over and over that having access to our courses gives them confidence and drive to keep putting in the effort and pursuing their goals. We want our employees to feel the same way about the opportunities extended to them.

At Udemy, performance management isn’t a trial to be endured. It’s a conversation worth having.

This post originally appeared on LinkedIn Pulse.

January 15, 2016: Friday News Roundup

This week, Udemy was part of exciting news out of Singapore as well as an announcement with Microsoft to provide online learning access to youth in the Middle East and Africa. Just business as usual as we prepare for world domination (just kidding…?). Let’s see what else people have been talking about in the world of career development, learning, and the future of work.

We learn more when we learn together
This article was heavily circulated around the Udemy office. We’re always pondering ways we can enhance the learning experience on our platform and support students in reaching their goals. Some great ideas in here for hooking up with other people to keep your efforts on track, such as forming a learning group at work or enlisting a mentor to help motivate you.

When the 10-year work anniversary is a personal failure
If you were sticking around for a gold watch, you’re probably not gonna get it anyway. Millennials view switching employers as their best path to career advancement and have no qualms about jumping ship for a better offer, regardless of how long they’ve been in their current role. Attention, employers: are you giving feedback and having conversations regularly with your millennials workers to make sure they’re satisfied?

How to impress employers with online courses
If you’re currently unemployed, you need to get a job before you think about how long you’ll stay in it. Udemy’s featured here as one option for job-seekers to bolster their resumes with real, demonstrable skills. Moreover, taking online courses shows you’re self-motivated to learn and grow, something more employers are prioritizing along with (or even above) any formal degrees you may have earned.

There’s one universally successful strategy for motivation
Those geniuses at Nike were really onto something; turns out “Just Do It” isn’t only effective advice to get you off the couch and into the gym. Taking action — any action — can also help you break the inertia at work.  

If I knew then…
Udemy CEO Dennis Yang shares his wisdom in this regular Q&A with business leaders who’ve made a mistake but learned important lessons from it. Dennis’s misstep? Thinking he could juggle many other roles and responsibilities while also serving as CEO. It didn’t take long to realize he’d be better off bringing on other executives to focus on their areas of expertise so he could do the same.

Extending our reach to help Middle Eastern and African youth gain job skills

By Dennis Yang, CEO, Udemy

Udemy’s mission is to help anyone, anywhere, learn virtually anything. We believe that access to high-quality learning resources is the key to empowering people around the world to get on a path to upward mobility, achieve their goals, and improve their circumstances. That’s why we’re excited to be partnering with Microsoft to accelerate our ability to offer online skills training to youth in the Middle East and Africa (MENA), where unemployment rates continue to climb.

Youth unemployment in the MENA region is expected to reach 30% by 2018. According to the World Bank, the youth unemployment rate is currently 38% in Egypt and more than 33% in Jordan. And these figures don’t take into account the Syrian refugee population, which would inflate the percentages even more in those countries as well as in Iraq, Turkey, and Lebanon. Even South Africa, a leading economy in sub-Saharan Africa, has one of the highest youth unemployment rates in the region at 54%.

At Udemy, we know that access to critical training and skills can break the unemployment cycle and get people into good, sustainable jobs. Udemy’s Social Innovation program, our initiative for working with nonprofit, NGO, and for-profit entities, is one way we lend a helping hand to populations hungry for education and employment resources. We connected with Microsoft to get involved in YouthWorks, or Ta3mal, as it’s called in the Arab world, to offer skills-based courses in the MENA region. YouthWorks is a network of websites managed by Silatech and Microsoft, where young people can find content and tools designed to help them secure jobs.

With this partnership, Udemy is building upon our already significant presence in the developing world. In fact, enrollment by students from developing countries is outpacing all others, with the majority of new student sign-ups since February 2014 coming from these regions. Not surprisingly, this student segment uses mobile devices heavily and represented the bulk of Udemy’s mobile sign-ups in 2015, a trend we fully expect to continue. Generally speaking, non-U.S. countries are the powerhouse behind Udemy’s ongoing growth, especially emerging economies like Brazil and India, while developed countries continue to enroll more students too.

As more young people in MENA access our courses through YouthWorks, we’re looking forward to seeing which categories are most popular so we can continue to deliver great training on the specific skills these students need to transition into successful working adults. We’re humbled at this opportunity to help them achieve better futures for themselves, their families, and their countries.

Udemy and SkillsFuture: Letting Singaporeans “shop” for new skills

Big news out of the Far East to kick off the week!

SkillsFuture

People browse course offerings from Udemy and others (photo: Kevin Lim, Straits Times)

Over the weekend, the Singaporean government launched the SkillsFuture Marketplace, “a new roadshow through which the public can find out more about how they can spend their $500 from the SkillsFuture Credit scheme to upgrade themselves.” Udemy, with more than 280 approved courses, is one of only two online course providers currently approved for Singaporeans to apply their subsidies. This event (literally) made front-page news in The Straits Times, the country’s biggest daily newspaper. 

A bit more about the program itself: Through the SkillsFuture Credit program, more than two million Singaporeans aged 25 years and above will get a starting credit of $500, which they can spend on a variety of learning resources that have been approved by the Singapore Workforce Development Agency (WDA), supported by public agencies, and offered through approved training organizations and partners like Udemy. The government is taking real action in response to the fact that nearly 45 percent of Singaporean employers believe that there is a skills shortage for talented workers.

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The deputy PM checks out Udemy.

As key partners of the program, Udemy was featured prominently at this weekend’s roadshow kick-off, getting to showcase our offerings in one of only three booths provided by the Singapore government. Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam even made a special stop at Udemy’s booth.

We’re really excited to be part of the SkillsFuture program and to continue our expansion into international markets. With more than 50 percent of our revenue coming from countries outside of the U.S., Udemy’s global presence is growing fast. In 2015, the number of Singaporean student enrollments on Udemy increased 198 percent! Local partnerships like this one with the Singaporean government are helping us reach more people with access to skills training they wouldn’t otherwise have.

Great work by Udemy’s business development team! We’ll be sharing more news from the international front very soon.  

January 8, 2016: Friday News Roundup

Happy New Year! The Roundup has been on a holiday hiatus, but we’re pumped to hit the ground running here in 2016. Let’s dive right in!

A year of change for employment, culture, and education in 2016
This is a good place to start — with our CEO’s predictions for the year ahead. Dennis will be watching to see how the growing ranks of freelancers keep their skills competitive, how Silicon Valley steps up to show its philanthropic side, and how companies face up to their ageism problems.

4 ways to become a better learner and How to make learning more automatic
Learning how to learn… sounds like the punchline to a joke, right? No funny business about it. Read on for real, concrete actions you can take to help yourself get into and stay in the learning mindset.

7 best career moves to make in your 20s
Millennials, this one is for you. Start off the new year with these great tips for getting ahead in the workplace. Along with advice to set goals, seek out mentors, and join professional groups, Udemy gets a shout-out under tip #6: “keep studying.”  

Why do Americans work so much?
Perhaps this is a question you asked yourself when you woke up on Monday after the holidays and headed back to the office. The answer, as this article explains, is not simple, nor is it consistent across income brackets, but in a nutshell: low-wage earners work more because they have to; wealthier folks do it because they want to.

How to keep your technology department ahead of the curve
The newest installment of the Forbes Technology Council again features Udemy’s own VP of Engineering Claire Hough with some wise words on how companies can keep up with the dizzying pace of tech trends.

A Year of Change for Employment, Culture, and Education in 2016

future constructionBy Dennis Yang, CEO, Udemy

With 2015 in the books, it’s time to look forward. You know what that means: predictions for next year! Here are a few things I’ll be tracking in 2016.

Hiring Managers Cool On Elite Credentials
In 2015, accounting firms Ernst & Young and Deloitte announced big changes to the way they assess job candidate readiness, such as using a “school-blind” hiring process to eliminate the presence of unconscious bias. In the next 12 months, I think we’ll see more employers following suit, as educational pedigree increasingly takes a backseat to skills-based assessments and employers look to reduce the noise and bias associated with traditional education signals. In doing so, employers will gather a clearer picture of what applicants are really capable of, not just what they say they’ve studied or can discuss in abstract.

Basically, listing degrees on a resume is out; successfully completing projects that demonstrate competencies is in.

Freelancers Flex Their Power
This past year saw freelance workers get a lot of attention. More than a third of the U.S. workforce now consists of freelancers, which includes everyone from “sharing economy” contractors for companies like Uber or Taskrabbit and independent professionals like graphic designers and product managers who prefer to pick and choose their own assignments rather than stay with one employer. In 2016, I predict this conversation will reach critical mass, especially around how freelancers continue to learn and upskill in such a fluid work environment. In the absence of corporate support, these independent workers need to keep hustling to stay ahead of the curve and prove the can out-innovate their peers.

In short, as more companies choose to depend on contract workers for key parts of their business, those freelancers will see increasing competition for those gigs and, therefore, more pressure to differentiate themselves and their skills.

Silicon Valley Sets Its Sights On Philanthropy
A new generation of tech moguls set their sights on philanthropy this year. Mark Zuckerberg led the way with his commitment to donate 99% of his Facebook shares to charitable investments. Next year, I anticipate even more Silicon Valley tech companies and influencers will double down on philanthropic initiatives to put substance behind their collective “change the world” claims and offset criticism around their lack of diversity and equal opportunity. Expect these efforts to include investments and programs to modernize education in the U.S. and internationally, close the opportunity gap, and apply technological innovation to big global issues like disease and climate change.

There are also compelling business drivers behind these initiatives. Silicon Valley companies looking to attract top talent and public goodwill need to show exactly how they’re making real, positive differences in the world, not just accumulating wealth.

Ageism Becomes The Next Diversity Challenge
2016 will be the year companies get taken to task for having an ageism problem. While tech companies have been in the hot seat over gender and race imbalances in 2015, ageism — manifest in the relative scarcity of employees over 50 — is quickly coming to the fore as the next big diversity challenge workplaces around the nation must address.

Simply put, people are working longer than ever before, whether by choice or necessity. Statistics show the workforce is aging globally, not just in the U.S., which has serious implications for companies whose future growth depends on being able to staff up as needed. Instead, they’ll need to hang onto the talent they have and help them keep their skills up-to-date while also casting a wider net for new hires. And older workers, too, will need to take responsibility for maintaining their skill sets if they want to stay in the game. With more competition for talent, this may also be the year youth-dominated companies recognize what older workers are better equipped to offer, such as soft skills for managing people, communicating effectively, and thinking long-term.

Whether my predictions are on target or not, I am certain 2016 will be another year of rapid change for businesses, workers, and society at large. Here’s hoping it’s also a healthy and happy one!

This article originally appeared on Huffington Post.