Udemy's mobile future: 10 perspectives from President & COO Dennis Yang

Udemy kept a steady pulse of developments going in 2012 ahead of its announcement Friday that it secured a new $12 million round of Series B financing. The online video learning provider updated its platform with new instructor tools, launched a new iPad app and even formed a partnership with The Jack Welch Management Institute at Strayer University to provide management training courses.

The growing company also made a big hire, bringing on President and COO Dennis Yang. Yang knows as well as anyone that education and online learning are currently facing major disruption.

"The changes that are taking place today in education are actually happening faster than they are in other markets that have been disrupted, like mobile as an example," he told Education Dive in an interview this week. "I think it's going to catch a lot of people off guard, quite frankly."

We asked Yang about what the new $12 million will mean for his company in 2013, as well as where he sees the future of online learning going more generally. It turns out that mobile and new platforms will be major themes. Here are Yang's thoughts on why, as well as nine other issues we raised during the talk:

1. SIGNIFICANCE OF THE NEW FUNDING
YANG: "With this one, we really want to focus on what makes our business sensible and differentiated in the long run, which is having the best content—and by that I mean a combination of the variety, the depth and also the content types, really expanding on that promise in that when you come here you're going to find what you really need in order to learn what you're looking for."

2. THE IMPORTANCE OF MOBILE
"The whole aspect of mobile is huge for us, especially because adult learners, a lot of them obviously don't go back to school full-time. You need to be able to reach them when and where it's convenient for them, whether it's during their commute, late at night, early in the morning or just different pockets of time. Being able to provide them with access on their mobile devices is huge.

"For iPad in particular, it's a great form factor for us, if you just think about the overall user experience. That was our first foray into mobile. One of the interesting things about iPad is that we actually provide the facility to download the course.

"Beyond that, we absolutely want to hit the other platforms, whether it's iPhone, whether it's Android, whether it's different Amazon-supported platforms [such as Kindle] and probably Microsoft as well. Or with Windows 8, since Microsoft has a great presence in the education market."

3. YANG'S VISION FOR MOBILE EXPANSION
"My experience in mobile is around mobile applications, mobile advertising and mobile marketing, really around the promotional side in applications, as well as application development. That said, when we have such a great consumer-grade learning experience on the Web, a lot of it is just, 'Let's make sure that we get the right elements and we have the same spirit of design within mobile, and then working within the mobile ecosystem so that we get the right distribution of our applications out there.'"

4. THE UDEMY COURSES YANG TAKES
"I can tell you what I take personally. I take some startup courses. There's a great lean startup course that's free. It has a lot of really great content from shared experiences from other entrepreneurs. Also, another course on SEO—that's more for my own learning and edification. Also, Photoshop training. These are for my own skill-development."

5. TARGETING ADULT LEARNERS
"At the end of the day, what we want to do is we want to be able to provide an education medium for students for whatever skill development that they need. The accreditation and all the degrees out there—they're all great—but for adult learners, the education doesn't really end when you graduate college, if you do graduate from college."

6. WHAT UDEMY OFFERS NOW
"We are at the point where we have over 5,000 courses ranging from topics like Excel, to Photoshop, to Web development—a lot of different skill-based content areas. They're geared for that really want to develop their own capability to do well."

7. UDEMY'S OPEN MARKETPLACE
"We are a true open marketplace, and by that I mean you could go on there and create courses if you wanted to. Whatever topic you feel passionate about, you could actually create a course and you could put it up there and you would provide your own voice and your own distribution and monetization path for your expertise. That's why we ultimately think that we'll have the broadest impression and cover the most niche topics, if you will—that have the most breadth of content from a learning perspective."

8. HOW UDEMY ATTRACTS INSTRUCTORS
"We really provide them with a voice within our marketplace that reaches, obviously, a lot of different students. In the past, a lot of folks would maybe write a book or be on the public speaking circuit, and those have limited audiences. They also have limited longevity in some ways.

"So we provide them with their own voice, something they can really control. We don't exercise any editorial control over what they want to produce. The second is distribution, access to a large marketplace, and third piece is the legacy of it all. It's not like once you give the speech you go away. This is there for a long time.

"And the fourth piece is certainly the monetization aspect. We find that if you ultimately want to have the world's best content library, you have to provide the monetization or incentive for instructors to take the time to put their content out there."

9. WHAT WILL CHANGE NEXT IN ONLINE LEARNING?
"One the things that we're starting to see already is the blurring of the line between what you call skill-based content and traditional higher-academia-based content. We believe at the end of the day it's not really what degree you have, but it's what you know. It's about the skills you have, and if a students wants to master a particular topic or learn a new skill, it shouldn't really matter whether or not that content comes from an industry professional or it comes from a professor that's part of a faculty at a university. At the end of the day, good content is good content, and people are willing to pay for it if it's delivered in a great experience."

10. WILL ONLINE LEARNING FACE REGULATION?
"I don't know that the roadblocks will necessarily come from the regulatory authorities. The reality of it is MOOCs have done an astounding job at waking people up to the whole notion of breaking down the barriers between providing content to the masses, because if you have the best content, students will come. And I should be a little more specific—it's content as an experience. Those two wrap together, and those are the things that I do want to continue to improve upon."

 


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Top Image Credit: Brian Warmoth