Building the Skillshare Community

What is Skillshare? from Skillshare on Vimeo.

I’m loving Skillshare at the moment. The start up may only be a few months old, but it’s already capturing people’s imagination in New York, and it’s easy to see why. They have an inspiring vision to democratize learning, some fantastic teachers already on their books, and a slick, simple website pulling together their community.

Given that they are at such an early stage at the moment, it’s also no surprise that looking at the site I can see dozens of things that I’d love to tweak – I’m sure they are working on most of these already. They have rightly got a very sharp focus on keeping things simple, so just jamming in extra features clearly would not fit with the company ethos. However, here are a few thoughts on features that would support their community without sacrificing their product.

Facilitating teaching

The product team can help grow the number of teachers by making the process of organising, marketing and delivering a lesson as easy as possible.

–          Integrating marketing options into class creation: At the moment there are some good basic options for promoting classes (e.g. Facebook, Twitter and short links), but currently these are not integrated into the class creation process and could be overlooked by new teachers. After the main class creation page I would have a second page where teachers were prompted to promote their classes via social links and email. I would also split email out into a separate button, rather than relying on the Facebook send button, which is not an obvious route to email for many.

–          Direction to marketing advice: There is some great content on site advising teachers how to market their lessons. A pop up after teachers published their first class, prompting them to check this out would be useful and ensure that teachers were as marketing savvy as possible.

–          Basic HTML editor for lesson postings: A minor thing here, but it would be great to include a basic HTML editor in the larger text fields for teacher profiles and classes. Whilst anyone with a rudimentary knowledge of HTML will not have any problem adding emphasis, links, bullet points and so on, a few of these basic options would support teachers that might be on the site to teach without technical knowledge. The class profiles that use a bit of basic structure invariably look more professional and attractive to attend.

–          Tipping point for classes: The pilot lesson and watcher features are already great, and adding a tipping point for classes to go ahead would further reduce the risk to teachers of spending the time preparing and giving a class that was poorly attended. Similar to the tipping point on Groupon, it would mean that lessons only went ahead, and payment was only taken from students, if a minimum threshold of students was reached.

–          Teacher analytics: Not something that would be high up my list of priorities, but a valuable addition at some point, is marketing analytics for teachers. If teachers are going to take their teaching seriously then they would benefit from some analytical support on how their marketing efforts were doing. I would have thought that some form of integration with Google Analytics would provide all the information that teachers needed: traffic sources for classes, pageview numbers, and conversion rates from pageviews to watchers and paid up students.

Adding student comfort

The main barrier I see to students taking classes is concern over their quality, and whether they feel they are getting value for money. A couple of poor classes that left students feeling cheated could hurt the community severely.

–          Linkedin profile link for teachers: Skillshare already allows teachers to easily link through to a personal website, Facebook, Twitter and even Quora. However, I would have thought that the most relevant link for most students was one through to Linkedin, so that students can see professional experience of their teachers. Whilst a blog link might be more appropriate for someone teaching about their hobbies, anyone wanting to teach a business orientated class would hugely benefit from this.

–          Feedback from students: A simple feedback system on teachers would be of huge value to students. Both comments and a star rating for classes (this could be aggregated up to give an overall start rating for the teacher) would immediately give students confidence in using teachers that they had never heard of, but were known to the Skillshare community. I suspect that it would also mean that many teachers started giving discounted lessons when they were starting out so that they could get a good start to their rating.

–          Teacher recommendations: Similarly, the ability for teachers to ask for recommendations from other members of the Skillshare community in a similar way to Linkedin would give them credibility before they taught their first class.

–          Video previews and sample materials: Best practice amongst teachers seems to be writing a blog post on the topic of a class they are going to give. I think this is to be encouraged, as it provides students with a sample of what they can expect before they get into the classroom. Allowing teachers to post video clips of previous lessons or sample materials within Skillshare would also be a great way for students to get an idea of what they would actually get by taking the class.

Big ideas…

One of the reasons that I love Skillshare is that it is a BIG idea – one that could have a profound impact on society itself, as well as be a hugely successful company. It could have this kind of impact with its current business model and functionality, but if I allow my imagination to run wild, I can also think of a few obvious adjacencies that are huge opportunities in their own right.

–          Venue database: Skillshare’s NYC venue map is a great start to tackling what I think is one of the biggest barriers to running a class – where to host it. Although not an immediate priority, I would love to see at the very least a link through from the class creation page to this map to ensure teachers are aware of it, and ideally some way of booking teaching space. Of course Skillshare could go on to create the OpenTable for meeting and teaching space as well, or even get into property management if it really wanted to.

–          Online classes: There are already calls on the Skillshare website for students to be able to buy videos of classes that are booked up or they can’t attend in person. Creating a pay-per-view library of the most popular lessons would seem to benefit everyone in the Skillshare community – teachers would be able to earn more and reach a greater audience, students would be able to see more content at a reduced price, and Skillshare would have an additional revenue stream. I think that Skillshare is right to focus on real world interactions to begin with, but the possibility for anyone in the World to learn from the best teachers in their field is too big a vision to ignore.

–          Schools and managed classes: Skillshare could also start managing classes in high demand areas, or allow third parties to do this. Skillshare would recruit teachers to give lessons in areas that it had determined had high demand, and handle the management and logistics of those classes itself. It could even put together series of classes into courses. Starts to sound like traditional education, especially if third parties are creating brands for themselves by pulling together courses in specific areas and in effect becoming virtual “schools”. This is obviously the very thing that Skillshare is trying to disrupt, but it is an obvious way for them to go, providing a guided educational experience without the expense and infrastructure that traditional education requires.

Wrap up

Skillshare is a company with a great future ahead of it. I look forward to seeing how they develop their business over time and wish them all the best of luck.

Video from Skillshare website

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