Can Udemy disrupt education?

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Ten years ago, MIT began offering its own courses on the Internet through its OpenCourseWare, but not many other major universities have yet followed suit. They face two major hurdles: getting higher-up university officials to buy into the concept, and finding the right software to put course content online without much difficulty. Gagan Biyani, cofounder of Udemy, is trying lower those hurdles. (See our interview with Biyani here).

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Udemy (short for “the Academy of You”) is a platform that helps educators build an online course easily. Biyani posits that “the future of learning is very much going to occur online,” and much of online learning will require a simple platform, “by which an average, everyday instructor who maybe isn’t a technology whiz can go online and publish a course that people can take all over the world.” Udemy, Biyani believes, provides that platform.

Users can go onto Udemy’s website and take an online course already offered there, or, with only a couple of clicks, they can post one of their own. In addition to hosting live virtual classes, additional features such as recorded video lectures, PowerPoint presentations, PDF documents, audio recordings and blog posts can easily be added.

Biyani argues that in the same way the advent of textbooks revolutionized learning standards in the last century, online learning represents a shift in education of the same magnitude. The Internet has made it easy for anyone to publish and access content, breaking down the traditional structure of content distributors and consumers in industries such as music, publishing and the news media. Udemy’s program represents its greater goal of further democratizing education in the same way.

While online ventures such as YouTubeEDU and iTunesU might not have seen as much success as once expected due to a lack of creativity in innovating the teacher-learner dynamic, current institutions of higher education can definitely benefit from the current changes—if they are forward-thinking in adopting new Internet-based technologies. MIT, for example, has significantly boosted its reputation as an innovator for pioneering online learning, though its site remains less interactive than the possibilities Udemy offers.

Biyani notes that while anyone can post a class online, not everyone is an expert in course content. Colleges and universities have the built-in benefit of having already centralized much of the world’s expertise on various subjects in the professors on their campuses. Filming their courses would be very inexpensive, and putting them online using Udemy is now quite easy.

“The important thing is not the quality of the video, it’s the quality of the content,” Biyani points out. Higher education institutions were not made to develop internet software, he argues. Relying on the tech world to contribute the software will free up universities to do what they do best—teach. “Spending $10,000 on video production isn’t worthwhile [for a university]; spending $10,000 on curriculum development? Probably worth it.”

While many believe that mobile phone technology will revolutionize the Web in general, Biyani questions the notion that gaming and mobile phone technology will rule the future of education technology. Even though Udemy is viewable on mobile devices, he predicts students will be willing to spend much more of their learning time on the Web than on a smartphone or electronic tablet, due to the single-session length of time substantive learning requires.

Ultimately, Biyani thinks, Web technology will transform higher education through democratizing the market of higher learning, “to increase the number of people who are able to both produce and access that content.” Look to see Udemy playing a significant part in building that market.

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  • bgibson135

    I think you need to be able to introduce a folder or faux-folder (module) structure, instead of just chronological lessons as in Udemy.  Needs some kind of testing & gradebook components. Kyle Bowen mentioned that JetPack was being built on a blogging structure.  If you have access to add various widgets to WordPress, then you can embed most of the “bells & whistles” Web 2.0 tools into your pages/posts making WP a viable course delivery framework.   WP is already mobile friendly.  You can publish to it via email & by phone, so you can both create & deliver mobile content.