Skillshare: Non-Traditional Education 2.0

Originally posted to Forbes.

The concept behind Skillshare is simple: empower everyone to teach anything, anywhere. And sometimes it’s the simplest ideas that have the greatest long-term impact.

The Skillshare philosophy is that everyone has something valuable to teach. Skillshare.com provides countless opportunities to enrich yourself intellectually or just pick up a new hobby, all while interacting with other members who share similar passions. In fact, it was CEO and co-founder Michael Karnjanaprakorn’s own poker skills that set the idea in motion. Following his success at the World Series of Poker, Michael thought, “Hey, I can teach others how to do this.” And that’s what he’s doing.

While poker classes are still available through Skillshare, it’s not the only way the site can help make you a winner. Some Skillshare courses provide valuable tools and information to help career development or expand technical skills, like their classes on Startup Design: UI and UX Design Team Structure and Process, Design for 3D Printing, and Sketchnotes, Infographics and Graphic Facilitation, which caught my eye.

There is something here for everyone, be it Mastery of Community Management or learning how to make dumplings. Regardless of the class, one thing stands out: the educators here really want to share the their knowledge and skills, and their evident enthusiasm has created real vibrancy in this young community.

I recently had the opportunity to speak with Danya Cheskis-Gold, Skillshare’s Community Manager. She explained the varied uses for Skillshare, one example being students who are using Skillshare as a self-driven educational platform after leaving college early, and filled me in on their recent efforts toward supporting teachers and providing even better productive learning experiences for members.

Jesse Thomas: It seems like the only way to sign up for a Skillshare account is to link it to one’s Facebook account. While the majority of people online do have a Facebook profile, there are a lot of people who either don’t or choose to not have a Facebook account. Is there a way to sign up without a Facebook account?

Danya Cheskis-Gold: You can log into Skillshare using just your email, if you’d like! When you head to the Skillshare sign-up page, there’s a big Facebook button that we encourage people to click to sign up with their Facebook account – this activates all of the social connecting on Skillshare! There is an option on that page to log in with your email, though.

Jesse: Since there is already a “classes” section on Craigslist and many communities have RECenters that offer classes, why did you two feel the need to create Skillshare? What sets Skillshare apart? Why should people use it?

Danya: Skillshare is solving a serious problem in the world right now: an education system that isn’t speaking to its students or taking advantage of the passion and skill that our fellow community members possess. Skillshare’s vision is to democratize education by empowering anyone to be a teacher. We’re also unique because of our community, which is made up of highly creative, innovative folks who can offer skills that aren’t available in traditional settings and who provide great support and encouragement to each other.


Jesse: What inspired you to create Skillshare?

Danya: We came by the idea after being inspired by shows like The Wire, which really bring the inequalities and access issues of our education system to light. Michael also volunteered at a charter school in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina and had some of his own conflicting experiences with school – some not so great and others incredibly inspiring and productive. It all came together for him after a successful run through the World Series of Poker, after which a ton of friends hit him up for lessons… and he realized he could hold a class for them. That was it! Everyone has something valuable to teach, and that’s what we’re trying to show with Skillshare.

Jesse: There doesn’t seem to be many classes in the Washington D.C. area, how do you plan to encourage more people to teach classes in smaller cities? Are you planning to offer any incentives?

Danya: Skillshare is actually open everywhere, so people in any city can teach, which we’re starting to see happen – we’ve got lots of classes going up in San Francisco, and Philly has been really popular. As NYC grows and we learn from what makes the community tick over here, we can extend what we’re doing here to other cities to help them get kicked off, too.

Jesse: In a New York Times article a few weeks ago, Michael Karnjanaprakorn stated that some teachers on Skillshare could make more than $1,000 per class that they teach. While this is a great way for people to make a living, do you think it undermines professors and teachers for accredited educational institutions?

Danya: Lots of the topics that Skillshare teachers focus on actually aren’t even available in college/university settings, like Mastery of Community Management, for instance. We deeply believe that anyone who’s passionate about something and has even thought about it for a year more than someone else has incredible value to share with others.

Jesse: What is the most interesting class that you’ve come across on Skillshare?

Danya: We’ve been super excited about some of our own heroes and role models, like Eric Ries of the Lean Startup, teaching classes, but we’ve also been happily surprised by many of the food-related classes, like how to make dumplings!

Jesse: Are there certain topics for classes that are more popular to teach/attend than others, or does the user base Skillshare offer an even variety of interests?

Danya: We aim to have a very diverse range of classes, from creative arts to programming to cooking classes, but we specifically focus on featuring those that aren’t typically accessible, either due to cost or the fact that they’re new subjects.

Jesse: What type of classes do you think are best to teach/learn on Skillshare and which classes do you think is best to learn from an educational institution? Or do you two believe that everything you can learn at a university can be learnt through Skillshare?

Danya: We actually already have a few students using Skillshare to supplement their self-driven education after dropping out of college. I have a Master’s degree, so I love college and school, but it’s incredible to see that people are driving their own learning experiences in ways that work best for them… and those ways might not be the most traditional or standard. Ultimately, you should be able to come to Skillshare to learn whatever skill it is that you need to achieve your goals, and our current education system doesn’t provide that opportunity for all.

Jesse: There are a lot of talented people out there who might want to teach, but I think there’s a difference between being good at something and being good at teaching it. Does Skillshare provide any tools/classes for these talented professionals to become a better teacher?

Danya: Yup, absolutely. In fact, we’ve hired a number of people for our Community team who will be focusing even deeper on curriculae and creating incredibly high quality and productive learning experiences for our community members. We’ve got an entire page of resources and testimonials on our website and will continue to build out the resources we provide for teachers on the front end so they can go from being awesome at something to actually teaching that skill well.

Jesse: Since Skillshare is unable to process refunds on behalf of teachers, what happens if a teacher sells tickets for a class but then becomes a no-show? How does Skillshare plan to protect their users?

Danya: Right now, we deal with every refund situation one-off, so if we need to connect a teacher to a student or vice versa, we’ll do everything in our power – up to the point of reimbursing people out of our own pocket – to make sure everyone’s gotten what they earned and/or is paid back for a less-than-desirable experience.

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