One thing that many students don’t seem to realise is that for most of them their “finals” won’t be their last exams. During their careers they’ll find it next to impossible to avoid professional exams or even work place proficiency tests. Working life and increasingly personal life will be a succession of training and educational courses in pursuit of often mandatory certification or diplomas.

And people are doing it voluntarily as well, in many cases simply because they can. What’s now called e-learning is easily available on a laptop, tablet or Smartphone.

At the same time e-learning might become an alternative to university for undergraduates. Tertiary education is no longer free and graduates end up having to service huge loans, often having to defer big investments like mortgages for many years. Before making university choices people now have to think very carefully about college courses because they’ll be the ones paying for it.

They’ll have to think about whether an academic course, which would include lots of essays, assignments and a guy at the top of a huge hall lecturing from notes (sometimes using the same notes for decades), would best serve their career plans. Or if they wanted to train as, for example, software engineers, would it make more sense to work in a live environment and combine that with self-paced e-learning?

There certainly is a demonstrable demand for online education:Forbes magazine reports that Coursera, an organisation that delivers free interactive courses from world class universities, as of October 2013 attracted 5.2 m students world wide. And Udacity, a similar organisation, has students from 203 countries. The Graphic below illustrates the market opportunities offered by elearning.

IBIS-Capital-10-things-you-should-know-about-eLearning

 

The Udemy Model

Udemy is an online business that recognised this dynamic global demand. It’s an internet market place where prospective students can browse and buy places on training courses covering virtually every conceivable topic from software development to Yoga. VentureBeat reports that it has 4 million students and offers 20,000 courses.

It’s model is similar to Airbnb and Uber: independent instructors design and create their own courses and if they meet Udemy’s quality requirements they can sell them to students browsing the company’s online marketplace.

The instructors have their course listed and available on Udemy and get paid commission on sales of places on the course.

From 1st of November 2013 instructors now receive 50% of any sale where a student was brought to the website by Udemy.

If the instructor himself sells his course to a student he brought to the website he gets 100%  commission on that sale minus a fee that covers a 3% payment that Udemy is charged for credit card transactions.

Previously instructors got 75% commission on each sale to a Udemy sourced student and 85% of the sale to students they bring to the website.

The company says that the instructors might see a drop in income immediately after these changes go live, but they are investing in the marketing of the Udemy message which they hope will see an eventual increase in traffic and sales.

Udemy in Ireland

There’s a strong local angle to the Udemy story. On 5th of November last year the company’s co-founder, Eren Bali, was in Dublin to announce the new Udemy EMEA Operations centre. The company’s Dublin team will include engineers, sales, marketing and country manager roles. Half of Udemy’s students are outside the US so setting up a Dublin hub that will support the markets in Europe, The Middle East and Africa is a natural development.

“EMEA represents a huge opportunity for our continued global expansion. Establishing a physical presence in Europe’s growing technology hub of Dublin will allow us to tap into Ireland’s highly skilled talent pool and bring on a team that will be integral to Udemy’s growth.”

Udemy CEO Dennis Yang speaking to The IDA Nov 2014

Marketing

Udemy has used multiple marketing channels to attract business without straying too far into the territory of paid advertisements.

From the start it recognised high quality instructors as essential to its success. They would have their own networks on-line and off-line, offering additional marketing channels. And the more popular instructors they sign-up, the faster their market will grow.

In an interview with VentureBeat Magazine, Udemy CEO, Dennis Yang, highlighted this marketing strategy where service suppliers can boost demand directly by bringing their own customer base with them.

It also offers the advantage of cost efficiency because Udemy don’t have to spend as much on conventional marketing channels like advertising agencies.

Another marketing strategy is the on-line review section on the Udemy website where students post their course reviews: this adds transparency to the service and a continuous supply of fresh content for the site.

Additionally, there is a company blog, FAQ pages, course preview videos and course write-ups all of which which maximise website content.

They also promote niche content across the market’s longtail. These niche courses were important to Udemy in getting the business off the ground. But the next stage of the operation’s expansion has to include the crucial area of mobile apps.

Smartphone users are constantly looking for new, highly personalised experiences on their mobiles and the app store is a major provider of this. Udemy has devoted a lot of energy to getting established in the Google app store.

 Courses

There’s plenty of content in here for the autodidactic techie. True to its eclectic form, Udemy’s IT curriculum ranges from Hadoop, to ethical hacking onto cloud computing.

There are two pages listing Hadoop courses, the most popular of which is “Big Data and Hadoop Essentials“. As the title suggests it’s for people who are just starting to use this technology or who see it up ahead on their career horizon.

It aims to make basic concepts in this industry a lot clearer, for example: the difference between data science and data engineering. This is important particularly for people who are trying to break into the new data industry; they need to understand the job specifications and how their experience to date can help them get that role.

More advanced courses offer training for Hadoop certification: they cover areas like The Hadoop Distributed File System (HDFS) which stores and streams vast datasets over high bandwidth. Other topics including MapReduce, which allows for scalability across huge Hadoop server clusters, are also covered.

But it’s not just server-side technologies that are covered but client-side ones as well like Node.js. The syllabus can include JSON, AJAX, client-side model view controllers (MVC) and Backbone.js.

Other areas of technology serviced by Udemy courses are NoSQL database design, Cisco certification and AWS Cloud platform.

The internet has revolutionised learning: now more people than ever before all over the world can get a first class education in anything that’s learnable. It’s difficult to imagine where the barriers are. Udemy understands this and also gets how crucial it is to attract people with great communication talent and expertise in different fields to this new market place.