Earlier this week I had the chance to talk to Gagan Biyani, Co-Founder of udemy.com and he invited me for a tour. The project is an interesting mixture of different tools we already know from other platforms but it also offers some new features that I think are quite useful for online education.
When you first visit the site you might think udemy is a video lecture portal like Academic Earth, a platform where you have access to videos of single lectures or even complete courses. But if you have a closer look you will find that there are social features like a discussion board and a list of all subscribers of the course you may be interested to choose. This might be very useful to connect to like minded students / teachers and to extend the experience of watching the lecture with a discussion around the topic of the video.
In the actual course you can upload PowerPoint files or PDFs, upload videos or write articles directly on the platform. You are also able to import existing content from video platforms like YouTube, Vimeo, Blip.tv or texts and slides from SlideShare, Scribd and DocStoc.
A very useful feature to me is the udemy presentation / video mashup. If you have a video of you presenting a certain topic but the camera was on you and not on the slides, you can upload this video and the slides you used to udemy and synchronize both to play them side by side. If you are watching live streams of conferences you know that the camera will be on the presenter most of the time so this could likely be a great addition for the promotion after the event.
udemy also offers a synchronous learning environment with an in house developed virtual classroom. The classroom supports 1o1 and group lessons with “hundreds” of students and offers a whiteboard, a PowerPoint viewer and a chat room. The twist here is that it is completely customizable hence the teacher can choose the tools he/she will actually need during the class.
The last feature is building a community around the course. Teachers and students can post for example links and articles related to the topic of the course and ask or answer questions on the discussion boards.
Gagan Biyani announced yesterday on Twitter that udemy is officially live now and he told me that the team is currently working on the implementation of Facebook connect to the platform which is a good idea in terms of viral marketing on the world’s biggest social network.
You can create your udemy account for free. Right now I cannot see a revenue model on the site but if you take a look at the video you will see a point on the slide used in the virtual classroom that says “Teachers earn money on udemy”. In the talk I had with Gagan he told me that udemy will take 15% commission, so I think teachers will set a price for their courses.
The two main competitors for udemy I see at the moment are Sclipo and WiZiQ. Both of them are more focused on the live classes though where it seems udemy is more centered around the video content. The problems udemy will have to face are of course the same, finding educators who create courses and finding students who are willing to pay for those.