Udemy's Two-Million Milestone

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Over two million students served--and counting.

That's the latest milestone announced today by Udemy, the online marketplace that allows anyone to offer and sell video courses. Perhaps even more impressive for the SF-based startup, which has previously raised $16M in funding, is that it was only five months ago when it hit the one million students mark.

To put the numbers in context with the MOOC triumvirate, Coursera says it has over 6.2 million students on its homepage. Udacity declined to disclose the latest, but a FastCompany article in December 2013 reports it has 1.6 million students. EdX also reported 1.6 million in November 2013.

While these three providers partner with universities, non-profit organizations and even governments, Udemy's target audience is young adult learners looking to learn a new hobby or re-skill themselves for career change. "It's gratifying to help so many students connect with new skills and passions, and witness individuals transform their professional path and livelihoods," says Dennis Yang, President and COO, in a press release.

"Most of our content is skill-based; it's less academic in nature," Yang tells EdSurge. He adds: "We recognize that there are many great teachers in institutions. We have some content from them, but what's been amazing is to see individuals and smaller names who have been extremely popular."

The courses available on Udemy range from the highly esoteric ("Learn Jazz Piano Today!") to the oddly specific ("Master solving a quadratic by factoring when a is one"). Some of the most popular courses are tech-specific: beginning tutorials for Java, HTML5, Photoshop and photography.

Yang says it's been a boon that renowned experts across a spectrum of fields are teaching on the platform. "Marketplaces are subject to network effects," says Yang, "and well-known individuals are the drivers." For instance, in the category of entrepreneurship, Udemy's teachers include notable names like Eric Ries (The Lean Startup), Dave McClure (500 Startups), and Steve Blank.

It's not just the tech-savvy who are putting up courses, though. "There are two important things to know about online instructors," adds Yang. "Most are afraid to teach online, and most are non-technical." Still, he says, over 800 new courses are published each month--a testament to his belief that the Udemy's course creation process allows instructors to focus on teaching--not technology. "On average," Yang adds, "if the teacher already has the content ready, he or she can put up a course in a matter of weeks. If it doesn't exist, it will typically take two months."

The more teachers, the better for the company coffers. Udemy reported its top ten earning instructors in 2013 made over $5 million in course sales. The numbers for 2014 are sure to be higher. And since Udemy takes up to 50 percent of instructor earnings, its claim of a 300% revenue growth in the past 12 months may not be that far-fetched--especially given the number of new courses added each month.

For 2014, Yang shares with EdSurge three of the company's main goals:

  • Build deeper content in high-demand skills like data analytics, cloud computing and email marketing
  • Expand internationally (Udemy currently has over 1,500 courses in foreign languages, of which Spanish and Brazilian Portuguese are the most popular)
  • Support more platforms like SmartTVs and Chromecast
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