July 22, 2016: Friday news roundup

Lots of news to cover so let’s dive right in!

Dice and Udemy partner to offer targeted online courses for tech job seekers
First up, some cool company news. Dice is a career site for technology and engineering professionals, and this week they launched a curated selection of Udemy courses within their skills center in order to provide personalized recommendations to job seekers. It’s pretty nifty: search for a job skill and get a list of relevant courses available on Udemy.

Why constant learners all embrace the 5-hour rule
This article’s title refers to Benjamin Franklin’s personal routine of devoting an hour every weekday to learning, and it goes on to cite a bunch of other super-successful people who also make learning part of their daily lives.

4 keys to becoming self-motivated
All of us want to increase our productivity, but many of us have trouble finding any extra time in our schedules. But have you noticed, if you’re motivated enough to do something, you always manage to find the time to do it? This author suggests cultivating a sense of purpose, fostering a growth mindset, maximizing your strengths, and identifying the people around you who get you fired up to take action.

How freelancers can keep their skills fresh
Freelance marketplace Upwork is a Udemy partner, and our VP of Content Grégory Boutté contributed this post to their blog. In it, he makes a strong case for why freelancers must keep learning and updating their skills in order to stay competitive and how online courses can fill that need. When you’re done reading Grégory’s post, check out more tips for how to become a successful freelancer from the Harvard Business Review.

This is what your future virtual-reality office will be like
We conclude this week’s roundup with a peek into the (not-too-distant?) future. In a few years, you might be interacting with coworkers while wearing VR goggles and having “hands-on” collaboration with distant colleagues on virtual whiteboards. Decide for yourself whether this sounds like a productivity boon or just a more sophisticated way of filling your calendar with more meetings.

July 15, 2016: Friday news roundup

Hope everyone had a productive week and learned something new! Here’s what people were talking about in the media.

6 ways to make the most of your internship
Yes, we’ve been thinking a lot about interns these days, probably because we’re right in the  middle of our own summer internship program. We really liked the tips offered by this author and feel they apply to anyone in the early stages of their career or even starting a new job. Things like being resourceful, taking on extra work, and having high standards for excellence apply to all of us.

How to revitalize schools with tech
Our own CEO Dennis Yang attended Fortune’s Brainstorm Tech Conference this week and was part of a group of education and technology experts who dug into the opportunities for and challenges of improving schools and learning. This taskforce came up with four priorities for leveraging the power of technology for education, including ensuring high-speed internet access at all public schools and teaching computer science at every level, starting in kindergarten.

For effective brain fitness, do more than play simple games
We shared an article in a recent news roundup that questioned the validity of software that claims to exercise and strengthen its users’ brains. Here’s an article providing better alternatives and cites “novelty and complexity” as mandatory elements for achieving actual brain fitness. Examples include playing board games, learning a foreign language, or picking up a musical instrument.

Solving all the wrong problems
Lots of Udemy students aspire to careers as app developers, but the apps coming out of Silicon Valley have come under fire for being geared to a limited audience of privileged users or just being frivolous and far short of “world-changing.” This columnist calls for hackers, techies, and disruptors to put their considerable talent and intelligence toward solving bigger issues that really would change lives for the better.

A 10-year-old scored a PhD-level fellowship for the sweetest reason
A feel-good story out of France seems like the best way to conclude this week’s roundup. A young girl named Eva submitted her idea for using robots to make people in Paris happy to a  prestigious fellowship in the city. The program’s organizer was impressed with Eva’s passion and boldness and said, “Humility and the willingness to learn in order to go beyond our current limitations are at the heart and soul of innovation.”

21st-century employees need a 21st-century workplace

shutterstock_195619961Telecommuting aside, we all spend a lot of time in the office, so the design of this environment is a really big deal. Most companies have shifted away from the days when The Boss got the corner office and having a door you could shut was a sign of professional status. We have also moved on from the cubicle era, when “prairie dogging” was the easiest way to communicate with coworkers and people generally stayed hidden in their bland, beige cubes.

Today, it’s all about the open office plan. I sit in the middle of an open office myself. But when we define “open,” it’s more than just physical space. Defining “the ideal workplace” for the 21st century company is all about engaging employees, fostering transparency, and giving everyone a voice. The old-school model of executives being safely tucked away in closed offices no longer makes any sense. Younger workers, in particular, wouldn’t stand for the implied hierarchy and lack of transparency suggested by such a floor plan.

Since my company is driven by innovation, decisions often get pushed to newer employees, many of whom are millennials. My ideal workplace is one that meets the needs and preferences of this demographic while also promoting our values of transparency, innovation, and getting stuff done. While we’ve made a concerted effort to design a physical space people enjoy, the intangibles are much more important when it comes to maintaining an awesome work environment. It just so happens that the open office design supports our values by facilitating a certain kind of vibe around here. Here’s what I mean.

Empathize, learn, and open up
It’s hard as a leader to build empathy for your team if you’re hiding behind an office door. It’s also hard to learn from your super-smart colleagues if you’re walled off from each other. Despite the criticisms, open offices can’t be beat when it comes to serendipity, i.e., those times when you happen to overhear someone else’s conversation or catch a glimpse of someone’s laptop screen and realize you can contribute to their project, they can contribute to yours, and you’d all be better off pooling your efforts.

This reaches our customers too. When various departments co-mingle, they can share best practices more fluidly and deliver better experiences for the instructors and students in our online learning community. Spontaneous conversations can yield the most impactful product improvements, so it’s crucial to welcome ideas from anyone and everyone.

It’s also important that people feel safe talking about their failures so they (and everyone else) can learn from these experiences. For management, that means being genuinely approachable, open to receiving honest feedback, and supportive of their teams.

Take ownership and get stuff done
People feed off the feeling of accomplishment. Managers and leaders should recognize this applies at every level. In an open office, it’s just that much easier to share successes across the company, and we make sure people are given the chance to achieve and be recognized.

As a company composed predominantly of bright, motivated millennials, we’re constantly putting people in positions where they are empowered to take decisive action even though they may not have past experience to guide them. We want employees to reach beyond their comfort zones, but we make sure to support them and remove their worries about taking a major fall.

When people get that great feeling of taking responsibility for their work and results, they’ll naturally want to take ownership on future assignments. This value is on display all around our office, all the time, and it’s really empowering.

Innovate and show passion
Our success is built on a shared mission and solid teamwork. Anyone can have a rough day or face burnout, and it can be reinvigorating to surround yourself with passionate, imaginative people who remind you why you’re here. We embrace innovation in all its forms—from deploying technology in creative ways to devising a nontraditional employee review process that’s a conversation, not a judgment day.

I think innovation and passion are closely connected, which is why it’s so important during the hiring process that we identify people who are fiercely motivated and committed to our mission of helping people around the world build the lives they imagine for themselves. Passion alone won’t get us there, but when that energy is paired with curiosity, experimentation, perseverance, and fresh ideas, nothing can stop us. It’s the fuel that runs throughout our office.

The “ideal” workplace is whatever engages employees and promotes company values. For our company, that’s space where ideas can flow freely and everyone feels connected to others striving toward the same mission.

July Hidden Gems

Hidden GemsDQ and Caroline have come up with some real winners for this month’s batch of gems. We’ve got tips for caring for a new baby or for a furry friend, being a dynamic speaker or a well-behaved dinner guest, and more!


Money Origami Gifts Origami
What we liked: In his younger days, instructor Mari G was featured on Disney Channel Asia for his precocious talent and love of the traditional Japanese art of origami. Here, he offers step-by-step guides to using paper currency to create a variety of objects, from butterflies to guitars to dresses. Making an origami turtle has never been easier!

Cat Pumping and Making DIY Toyscat pumping
What we liked: We hadn’t heard of cat-pumping before, but we’re going to start practicing with our felines ASAP (whether they like it or not!). In this course, cat fancier Will Caraway shares tips and tricks for keeping your cat happy and entertained. Go on a journey to learn how to build your own cat toys and give your pet a purr-fect massage.

Public Speaking Done Differentspeaking
What we liked: Whatever you’re expecting from a course on public speaking, forget it. This is by far one of the most inventive courses we’ve seen on any topic. Instructor Nathan Robertson blends fun and role-playing with solid, practical advice to help students channel their own personality into becoming a better speaker. The section on finding your style is a must-watch.

Guide to Pregnancy and Healthy Babiesparenting
What we liked: Extremely high-quality video production and varied camera shots make this course extra-engaging. Kate Slagh is a board-certified physician’s assistant whose goal is to help new or expecting parents (or anyone helping care for a new bundle of joy) build confidence in their childcare skills.

Everyday Dining Etiquetteetiquette
What we liked: Going to a dinner party but not sure where to leave your napkin when you get up from the table or properly place your salad knife when you’re done using it? Well, the salad knife goes on the upper-right-hand corner of your plate, but you’ll have to take this course for the napkin answer and many more everyday dining etiquette tips. Image and etiquette expert Kimberly Law will help you make a good impression and display manners that are sure to get you invited back.

July 8, 2016: Friday News Roundup

We’ve just about reached the weekend, but first we’ll take a look at interesting things we read over the last few days.

The power of “why?” and “what if?”
This columnist, who’s written a book on questioning, thinks “there are real forces in business today that are causing people to value curiosity and inquiry more than in the past.” That manifests itself in asking the right questions in order to spark innovation and anticipate what’s next.

Here’s the career advice President Obama gives to his summer interns
You may have seen the blog post introducing Udemy’s new crop of summer interns. We like to think we give our interns a rewarding work experience that exposes them to real-world activities and situations they’ll encounter on the job. Still, they (and all the rest of us!) can benefit from these words White House luminaries, including Vice President Biden and First Lady Michelle Obama, shared with their interns.

MOOCs put a new spin on professional development
Our own VP of Content Grégory Boutté is quoted in this article explaining why learning options for working adults need to be flexible, up-to-date, and available on demand. With many legacy companies pivoting to maintain their success in the digital age, professional development is more critical than ever but the old ways of training employees won’t cut it.

6 ways to check that your skills are still competitive
If you’ve got a good job, you may think you’re doing well by hitting your performance metrics and checking off your to-do list. You’ll need to go further than that, however, to keep your career growing and prepare yourself for the unexpected. This article advises keeping your eyes and ears open to what’s happening around your company and in your industry and setting personal goals outside any formal review program.

The myth of the millennial entrepreneur
Today’s grads are carrying loads of student debt, which makes them risk-averse and more inclined to find a job with a steady paycheck. This article examines how it affects the overall economy when young people aren’t able to start new businesses, thereby consolidating power among a few dominant companies.  

Meet Udemy’s Summer 2016 interns

This special guest post comes from Srishti Jain, who’s interning with us for the second summer in a row. Take it away, Srishti!

Another summer, another fresh class of interns! I am back this summer on Udemy’s corporate marketing team and excited to become a contributor to our acclaimed blog and introduce my fellow interns. This year, we represent a variety of backgrounds and fields of study and are covering all areas of the company. Join me in welcoming them to Udemy!

René Babior, Growth
Washington University in St. Louis, Marketing and Economics/Strategy

P1760095_jpeg A Berkeley native, René is excited to be back in the Bay Area for a summer working with our growth team. He is researching the course discovery process of our users and hopes to find a way to optimize that experience. After graduation next year he hopes to launch a career in marketing and is excited about everything he has learned so far at Udemy. This summer he wants to catch up with friends and enjoy the beauty of the Bay Area.

Catherine Boran, Content
University of Chicago, Booth School of BusinessLinkedIn Photo
Catherine is the latest addition to our content team and is helping diversify our instructor base and bring quality courses to the Udemy platform. Her favorite part of Udemy is the people (followed closely by the snacks). She’s looking forward to hiking and surfing in the Bay Area this summer and hopes to own a goat farm in the future.

Joseph Chang, Udemy for Business
University of Chicago, Booth School of Business02_SkyDeck-6
Like Catherine, JC comes to us as an MBA intern from UChicago’s Booth School of Business. This summer he is working on marketing analytics for our Udemy for Business team. He has set his ambitions high and wants to follow in the footsteps of our CEO Dennis Yang. Over the summer he continues to work hard, learn, and meet new people.


Sadie Gill, Product
California State University, East Bay, Masters in Statisticsupload
A recent graduate, Sadie has joined our small but mighty product analytics team as a data analyst. She is studying user search behavior and brings a vast knowledge of statistics and analytics to the table. The people here are her favorite part of Udemy, and she is spending her free time this summer getting some sun. In the future she hopes to adopt more cats.

Danica Jacinto, Operations
Stanford Graduate School of BusinessP1760056_jpeg
With years of experience as an investment banker in Singapore, Danica is now exploring a career outside of financial services. In her role as an operations intern at Udemy, she is working on an audit of our infrastructure and company-wide tools. She loves her team here and is spending her weekends hiking around the Bay. In the future she hopes to complete her yoga teacher certification (she’s close!).

Michael Ligier, Growth
NYU Stern, Finance and Computer ScienceP1760101_jpeg
After a busy first year in New York City, Michael has joined our growth team to generate insights on the course selection experience. He’s still weighing his career options, but as a huge fan of musical theater, his immediate plans are to acquire “Hamilton” tickets. His favorite things about Udemy are the adjustable standing desks and unlimited Kettle Chips. Outside the office he is spending his summer going to concerts, soccer games, and new Japanese restaurants.

Federico Nigro, Product Design
General Assembly, Design
P1760115_jpegFederico is on our product design team this summer and taking on a meaty project: redesigning the sign-up flow for our mobile app. He recently graduated from General Assembly after completing an immersive UX design program. He loves the transparency at Udemy, and when not at work, he loves to spend time outdoors.

Michal Orkan, Legal
University of San Francisco, LLM in IP and Tech Law
Originally a lawyer in Israel, Michal recently completed a post-grad law degree program (LLM) at the University of San Francisco. She is assisting Udemy’s legal team with intellectual property-related matters and commercial contracting. She is excited to spend her summer learning and upping her game and loves Udemy’s company mission. Over the next few months she wants to continue to meet new people and find great foods in the area.

Ali Salahi, Content
University of California, Davis, Statistics and PhilosophyP1760050_jpeg
Ali recently completed a degree in statistics from UC Davis and has fittingly joined our content team as a data analytics intern. He is putting his machine-learning skills to the test while optimizing our spam review filter. He wants to continue to learn and thrive in this field, in keeping with Udemy’s motto to “Never stop learning.” Originally from the Bay Area, he is spending his summer reconnecting with friends and family.

Isabella Salazar, Finance
UCLA, Business EconomicsP1760036_jpeg
A lover of all things finance, Bella is excited to be on the finance team this summer. She thinks it will be a great experience and will help her decide what she wants to do in the future. She’s currently considering doing more research in the field of behavioral economics. For Bella, Udemy is the perfect place to learn about all parts of the business and experience start-up culture. This summer she is hoping visit SFMOMA, bike Crissy Field, and find the best macarons in town.

Haruna Yasui, Business Development
University of California, Berkeley, Haas School of Business

3712392Haruna is joining us as a business development intern after recently completing her MBA at the Haas School of Business. A native of Japan, she is able to share great insights into user acquisition in our Japanese market. She loves that what she is doing at Udemy this summer is helping people learn in some way. In the near future she wants to get a dog and take horseback-riding lessons.


Srishti Jain, Corporate Marketing
Carnegie Mellon, Economics and StatisticsP1760089_jpeg
Last but not least, I’m back for another summer at Udemy with freshly acquired skills in data science and analytics. I am helping the corporate marketing team identify trends in how our students are closing the skills gap. It is exciting to see how Udemy has changed over the past year, and l love how willing everyone is to help each other learn and grow. This summer, I want to complete famous hikes in the area including Black Mountain and the Dipsea Trail.

Dennis Yang named EY Entrepreneur Of The Year® 2016 Award winner

Dennis Yang_UdemyWe’re thrilled to announce that our CEO Dennis Yang received the
EY Entrepreneur Of The Year® 2016 Award in the Tech-Enabled Services category in the Northern California region. Just as the Udemy team kicked off the Udemy LIVE welcome reception at Udemy HQ, Dennis climbed on stage at the Fairmont Hotel in San Jose to proudly accept his award on behalf of the entire Udemy community.

Shared success

Dennis delivered the good news with this note to the company: “Your hard work and the contributions of our instructors combined with our mission were recognized by Ernst and Young through the Northern California Entrepreneur Of The Year.” This hits the nail on the head. The power behind Udemy is the hard work of exceptional executive leadership, dedicated team members, and passionate instructors who together bring courses to students in every corner of the globe. We’re very honored that this work to forward our mission of helping people build the lives they imagine has been recognized through Dennis’ major award win!

This year is an extra special one for the EY Entrepreneur Of The Year Award program, as it celebrates its 30th anniversary milestone. The award recognizes “outstanding entrepreneurs who demonstrate excellence and extraordinary success in such areas as innovation, financial performance, and personal commitment to their businesses and communities.” Dennis was selected by an independent panel of judges after multiple rounds of submissions and interviews. Here’s a sneak peek that aired at the gala:

Onward and upward

As a Northern California regional award winner, Dennis is now in contention for the Entrepreneur Of The Year 2016 national program. National finalists and award winners will be announced at the Entrepreneur Of The Year National Awards gala in Palm Springs in November 2016. From there, the U.S. Entrepreneur Of The Year Overall Award winner moves on to compete for the World Entrepreneur Of The Year Award in Monaco, June 2017.

July 1, 2016: Friday News Roundup

Happy early 4th of July to readers in the U.S., and a blessed Ramadan to our friends in Udemy’s Ankara office and everyone celebrating around the world. Let’s see what caught our eye this past week.

Udemy LIVE: It’s a wrap!
What a weekend that was! We’re all pretty thrilled with how our first event for Udemy instructors went off, and based on the feedback, our guests had a great time too. Many instructors commented that they left feeling really inspired to go create more and better courses. For our part, the Udemy team got a lot of valuable input on what we can do to help instructors succeed. Check out the epic blog post, which includes lots of photos and links to more goodies shared on social media.

Introducing the IT skills gap un-list
Writer Gary Beach has compiled a list of initiatives that CIOs—and their colleagues in HR—could and should be doing to build the tech talent their companies need. Top of the list: reskill current talent, and support mobility and job rotation. These are both great strategies for maximizing the team you already have and giving employees more opportunities to grow.

Billion-dollar brain-training industry a sham—nothing but placebo, study suggests
You’ve probably heard about these software tools that purport to exercise your brain and make you smarter. The promise is attractive to many, but this article suggests these products just don’t deliver.

How to get people to embrace technological change
This is kind of interesting—how do you balance the business goal of innovation and being able to offer “revolutionary” products with people’s natural resistance to change? With technology firmly in the mainstream, companies find themselves catering to hard-core geeks and clueless newbs at the same time.

How much do qualification matter for a job in tech, really
Here’s some advice for demonstrating your skills and keeping your tech career moving forward. As we’ve read elsewhere, this article suggests soft skills are a must-have. Techies should also approach their jobs by identifying the business problems they’re working to solve, not just knowing the code they need to write.

“The game is never over”
Legendary women’s basketball coach Pat Summitt passed away this week at the age of 64 after battling Alzheimer’s disease. Summitt was beloved by players and fans alike and admired for her brilliant combination of toughness and compassion. Read this inspiring letter she wrote to a freshman player on the eve of her first start. Summitt’s words will resonate with anyone getting ready to tackle a challenge—or just get through the day.

Sparking kids’ path to high school

By JD Scalzo, Udemy Experience Coordinator


Alejandra and her Spark mentee

Being a learning company means different things depending on the context. At Udemy, one of our foundational values is encouraging learning among our own team as well as the instructor and student community who teach and take courses in our marketplace. But we also strive to cultivate and support the love of learning at any age among the general public.

A prime example of this value in action is our continued partnership with Spark, a nonprofit that helps underserved youth become motivated learners and connected community members through mentorships with working professionals. The organization’s goals are to reduce high school dropout rates and set participating students up for ongoing success.

Here’s how Spark works. On “match night,” mentors are paired with students based on similar interests and shared project goals. Together, they develop action plans for what they’ll work on during the program. Creativity and innovation are the name of the game, as students and mentors collaborate on cool projects like making a movie trailer, a dance video, a restaurant concept, and a mobile app specifically designed for middle schoolers. Of this year’s projects, 92% involved one or more STEM subject (science, technology, engineering, math).

I first encountered Spark when I signed up to be a mentor last fall and later served as Udemy’s corporate liaison during the spring 2016 semester. Then, at the end of the term, I was named 2016 Impact Champion! Flattered and awestruck, I didn’t really know what that meant until Spark shared some data around Udemy’s contributions. Our accomplishments include:

  • More than 760 hours of volunteering by 31 mentors since spring 2015, when our partnership began
  • Mentored 19 students from Roosevelt Middle School and 13 students from MLK Jr. Middle School, both of which belong to the SF Unified School District
Student Sonte with mentors DQ and Lauren

Student Sonte with mentors DQ and Lauren

The success of the Udemy-Spark partnership extends far beyond the projects themselves. The bond between students and mentors is powerful and inspiring on both sides. Take the example of Sonte, an 8th grader from Roosevelt Middle School, who teamed up with Udemy employees and first-time mentors David Quintanilla and Lauren Rosenfeld. “I admire my mentors because they were nice,” Sonte told Spark. “I could trust them, and they helped me learn a lot.” David and Lauren, meanwhile, found the experience so worthwhile, they worked with another student from MLK Jr. Middle School in the spring. I was really moved by how compassionate and involved they were with their students.  

It’s quite a unique bond, as I know from my own stint as a mentor. I was paired up with a quiet, charming 7th grader who wanted to improve her public speaking skills. Together, we decided she’d have an easier time on the speaking part if she chose a topic she was already passionate about. She chose to talk about her cat, Cupid, and what it’s like to be a cat owner. She shared the story of how she got Cupid and presented her research on different types of cats. I even got to take her to KitTea, a cat café here in San Francisco (trust me, it’s real!). It was interesting and somewhat heartbreaking to peek into the psyche of a middle-school student who thought she was so bad at speaking, she would get nervous and even cry when she had to present to her class. Over the course of 10 weeks, she eventually realized she only needed to apply patience, courage, and preparation in order to be a very good speaker. It’s a skill she’ll keep practicing and one that will definitely be to her advantage in the future.

Spark is a young but ambitious organization. They’re now collecting data and getting feedback from students and mentors to further develop the program, but their results so far have already made a big impact. According to Spark, 91% of their students notably improve their classroom engagement, attendance, and grades, while 90% of them complete 8th grade and are on track for high school graduation.

Helping make Spark students successful is just one way Udemy is proud to be a learning company. We had so much fun working with these middle-school kids and can’t wait for our next community engagement events.

Kristin of Udemy with her Spark student

Kristin of Udemy with her Spark student

Udemy LIVE: It’s a wrap!

Udemy LIVE has concluded, and consensus is that it was a huge success! We were so thrilled to see everyone connecting in-person and hanging out like lifelong friends, not simply professional colleagues. This is the solid foundation upon which we’re building Udemy’s future and, more important, the future for millions of people around the world who want to learn.

Your faithful blogger wasn’t able to attend every session, but here are some highlights from my Udemy LIVE experience. Admittedly, this only scratches the surface of the great content and conversations we were treated to over the past few days, but we’ll be posting more materials from the event in days to come and you can also check out #UdemyLive on social media. Lots of folks posted photos and videos on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and their personal blogs, so you can get a taste of what went down.

What struck me, in particular, was the instructor-bonding I witnessed throughout the weekend. Udemy instructors may only interact online most of the time, but it’s clear they’ve developed strong friendships, and I loved seeing everyone enjoying each other’s company so much.

Friday night reception
We welcomed instructors to Udemy headquarters to get things kicked off right. Personally, it was a thrill to finally meet several people I’d only spoken to on Skype before, and I know a lot of others felt the same way. It was so cool to discover we’re all “real people”!

In addition to mixing and mingling over drinks and hors d’oeuvre, Udemy instructors got to visit stations where they could create personalized Udemy badges for their websites and take professional headshots. The evening’s biggest hit may have been the station where instructors could generate heat maps, like Laurel Papworth’s, showing where their enrolled students are located around the world. It’s one thing to see a list of countries in your instructor dashboard, but these visualizations really brought that data to life and demonstrated in very clear terms the impact Udemy instructors have.

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Saturday general sessions and breakouts

100 Million Students and Beyond
The heart of Udemy LIVE was Saturday’s full slate of presentations by Udemy team members and instructors themselves.

VP of Content Grégory Boutté got us started by reviewing the accomplishments of those in the room: 160 instructors representing 28 countries, including such far-flung locales as Australia, Pakistan, Singapore, Panama, and Roumania. Collectively, these instructors have:

  • Taught more than 1.9M students
  • Created more than 1,400 courses, yielding 419 years’ worth of content
  • Answered 92,000 student questions

In other words, Udemy instructors work hard!

Grégory also called out a few in the crowd who’ve been teaching on Udemy for 4 years or more:

Cathy Presland
Alexa Fisher
Joseph Caserto
Miguel Hernandez
Charles Wall
John Bura

CEO Dennis Yang praised how far we’ve come together but reminded the audience there are still millions of people worldwide who are hungry for access to quality learning resources, and “we’re just getting started.” Understanding that online teaching can be a rather solitary pursuit, Dennis reassured everyone that “we’re here for you.” I think the instructors felt that commitment in so many ways this weekend, from meeting Facebook community hero Lindsey Bonner to having candid, constructive conversations with Udemy team members.

VP of Product Rob Wong and SVP of Engineering Claire Hough previewed product enhancements we’ve released and are working on to make Udemy’s marketplace more relevant, accessible, and rewarding. Our goal is to help instructors plan, organize, and create amazing course content and monetize it. Rob and Claire talked about our new course management UI, revamped review system, mobile-first experience for phones and tablets, and recently released Apple TV app. A hint at future voice-to-text capability for automatic captioning got the crowd pretty pumped too.

From there, everyone picked which breakout sessions to attend.

Ask an Instructor panel
I went to this session featuring some of Udemy’s longest tenured and most accomplished instructors taking questions from their peers. Cathy Presland, Peter Dalmaris, Scott Duffy, and Rob Percival addressed common instructor challenges. Here’s a sampling:

How can you provide a unique, differentiated course experience?
Scott: Being unique is the most important thing you can do to stand out among 30,000 courses. Be yourself and give your students personal attention and encouragement.
Peter: With the marketplace growing so fast, it’s hard to find an unfilled gap for your topic. Spend extra time on the details of your course and make it perfect, so the quality level becomes your differentiator.

How can you demonstrate quality?
Cathy: Teaching is not the same as talking. I’ve changed my approach over time and now focus a lot on learning style. I offer very specific, bite-size courses that are very practical and include exercises, but there’s no single right answer. Know what your students need and give them that.

How do you determine your course length?
Rob: For my first course, I just included everything I thought should be in there. I wanted to overdeliver in terms of information and content, so students would have lots of reasons to buy.
Peter: Consider having a comprehensive flagship course that can become a category leader.
Scott: Course length is definitely a purchase driver, and offering a lot of content raises the perceived value of your course. I don’t care if students finish.

What’s your strategy for keeping up with student questions?
Peter: It’s the first thing I do every single day, including weekends. It’s my morning ritual and tends to take about 60-90 minutes. I start with public Q&As and then email. I’m very thorough and careful in my replies. Student questions are also a great source of new lecture topics, and I also put questions and answers into my email newsletter.
Rob: I get 100-200 questions a day, so I created an HTML page that allows me to answer in bulk. I make sure to answer every question, but I simply don’t have capacity to go back to do follow-ups and address everything in each thread. I also create new videos to answer debugging questions.

What’s the best day/time to send promotional emails?
Cathy: It depends and is different for everyone. The key is consistency so whatever fits into my routine is what I do.
Scott: Look at your revenue trends to see when your students are already most active. I teach work-related courses and get most of my sales on Mondays, so that’s when I send my emails.

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How to Create an Exciting Learning Journey
Udemy employees/instructors David Kim and Pete Sefton started this session by sharing the goal they had for their “SQL for Newbs Masterclass”: to do for learning what Jon Stewart did for news, i.e., make it entertaining and watchable. As they explained, having subject expertise is only half the battle; instructors also need to encourage and engage their students. DK and Pete did this by including “brain busters” in their course for students to solve on their own. Another trick they shared for “shocking students back to attention” was adding surprising elements like wearing funny hats for a lecture or replacing themselves with R2D2 and a piňata in another.

Instructors Teresa Greenway and Rick Walter have their own distinctive methods of keeping students locked into learning.

Teresa starts her courses with a “quick win,” i.e., a simple project that helps students gain confidence in their baking skills. Her other powerful message to fellow instructors is to spread joy. When she was focused on making money, it drove the money away, she told the group.

Rick summarized his own experience of trying to learn to make an app but only finding extremely boring online resources. He kept that in mind when he created his own course. He urged other instructors to put themselves in the student’s shoes by going through the process of selecting a course and purchasing it with their own real money. That’s the best way to glean what will convert prospective students and deliver an experience that’s both fun and educational.

More tips from Teresa and Nick:

  • Include updates in your course description. Showing that you keep content fresh and current tells students that you care about delivering value.
  • Give individual attention. It’s not hard to reach out and make personal connections, and that extra effort will pay off. Both instructors described following up with students who’d left negative reviews, and how the simple act of a personal message prompted those students to revise their ratings.
  • Run challenges and contests. Nick picks student apps of the month and does a live stream of himself using the app; Teresa changes her Facebook group’s cover photo each month to feature a winning baker’s project. Giving students a chance to “win” and show off what they’ve learned is a creative, effective engagement tactic.   

Students First
One of the weekend’s running themes was how Udemy and instructors alike need to focus on student needs first and always. To tackle this broad idea, a foursome of Udemy employees took to the stage and presented suggestions for better understanding students and engaging them.

Catherine Gao challenged instructors to ask themselves why their courses should even exist. If you can’t readily come up with a list of how your courses will help solve a problem and deliver skills and knowledge, maybe you need to rethink your course idea. Catherine also exhorted audience members to be obsessed with their students and get deep into their minds, uncover their fears and dreams, and understand their starting point.

David Quintanilla explained why delivery is such a critical part of the overall student experience. In a nutshell, it’s not just what you say but how you say it. The best course content will fall flat if it’s not delivered in a way that resonates with its student audience.

Lauren Rosenfeld elaborated on DQ’s talk with some specific tactics for improving delivery:

  • Each course should be a clear journey from point A to point B. Scripting your course in advance will eliminate detours.
  • Be conversational and authentic. Putting a photo next to the camera or imagining yourself in front of classroom can help make your delivery more natural.
  • Interject energy and passion. When you’re making a video lecture, you need to amp up your presence and personality in a big way.
  • Vary your tone of voice. It’s easy to lose steam and not even realize it when you’re in the midst of a recording session. Make sure you keep your delivery lively and avoid the dreaded monotone.

Matt O’Dell talked about how to structure your course in a way that keeps student preferences first. He recommended starting your courses with a “quick win” and offering more practical applications than concepts. Giving practice exercises is a great way for students to see the progress they’re making so they’ll continue through the rest of your lectures.

Advanced Video Workshop
With dozens of courses on videography and photography, instructor Phil Ebiner was a natural to lead this session. Conversations in the instructor groups on Facebook are often around video equipment and best practices, so it wasn’t surprising to see a big turnout for this workshop. Using a before-and-after example, Phil demonstrated how music, imagery, talking heads, graphics, and calls-to-action can turn a mediocre course into a great-looking, professional-grade production. His equipment overview included tips on lighting and backdrops, which he had set up right there in the room for people to see.

Fireside Chat with Eren Bali and Dennis Yang
The daytime portion concluded with Grégory Boutte interviewing Udemy founder Eren Bali and CEO Dennis Yang in a casual “fireside chat” format. This was probably the first time most instructors got to hear directly from Eren about Udemy’s origins and how the company has evolved since its earliest days.

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Instructor Gala Dinner
If you weren’t there, the photos won’t do it justice, I’m afraid. Oz the Mentalist wowed everyone with his feats of magic and mystery. We’re still trying to figure out how he knew the serial numbers on Dinesh’s dollar bill… Then it was party time!

Sunday Seth Godin Workshop
There were a few more breakout sessions Sunday morning, including instructor Eric Arceneaux and subject expert Shanna Cook co-presenting on social media marketing, but the main event was Seth Godin’s keynote. Seth had some powerful words of wisdom and left us all feeling very inspired. Not surprising there was lots of tweeting during Seth’s talk!

Seth was received by the Udemy instructors like the marketing rockstar he is, and we appreciated how much time he spent taking selfies and signing books after his presentation.

Closing thoughts
With Udemy LIVE 2016 now behind us, we’re already reviewing what we learned from hosting this event and coming up with ideas for next year. The appetite is there for more instructor activities, and I heard a lot of people discussing how we/they can organize regional get-togethers so we don’t have to wait another 12 months to see our friends!

Thanks to all of the instructors who traveled from far and wide to take part. We’ve got a lot of big plans and ambitions for the future, and after this weekend, we’re more determined and excited than ever to continue working toward our mission of 100 million students. Let’s go!

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