Since 2010, Udemy has become a popular platform for course creators. It boasts 50 million students and 57,000 instructors teaching 150,000 courses in over 65 languages. It seems like an obvious choice for an instructor looking to create their first online course - but is it the right one?
Many instructors decide to use Udemy to create, sell, and promote their first course because it allows them to reach an audience of 50 million students from the outset. There are many success stories from instructors who have made thousands of dollars selling their courses within a few months of joining the platform.
Udemy provides excellent tools and insights to help you strategically monetize your learning content when getting started as an instructor. For example:
- You can access data on the courses that learners are looking for based on keyword and topic searches;
- You can see a list of topics that are in demand for the current quarter; and
- You can see the average and top-earning monthly incomes in each topic area.
However, despite all these benefits, there are a few disadvantages to using Udemy to create, sell, and promote your course as a first-time instructor. Let’s explore them in-depth.
A traditional Udemy course includes pre-recorded video lectures that students can follow at their own pace. It could also contain assignments or have a forum where students can connect with the instructor.
The approach to course creation and distribution that Udemy uses seems to fit into what we call the Student-Technology paradigm. Examples of platforms using the Student-Technology paradigm include Duolingo, Codecademy, and Coursera. These platforms scale the teaching process by removing the instructor from the educational process.
When a student sits down to watch your first course, Udemy’s platform replaces you as the primary delivery channel. The student expects zero interactivity from you apart from the one-way distribution of any required information. As a result, this hinders the formation of any human connection. The argument for this approach always originates at the business level. It has little to do with a desire to create a better educational experience or improve learning outcomes. The Udemy platform is the epitome of the factory approach to education, which is not inherently a bad thing because at a business level, it:
- Reduces operating costs;
- Increases overall profitability; and
- Increases the capacity to scale.
Therefore, platforms such as Udemy are not complete learning experiences. Most students consider them to be a supplemental resource that they can use in tandem with a primary educational resource such as classroom-based teaching. The low completion rates of online courses are a testament to this. Seth Godin, a marketing writer and teacher, reported that his online courses on Udemy and Skillshare have an 80% drop-off rate. At a broader level, the average student enrolled on a course completes just 30% of the content. 70% of students do not even get started.
So what does this mean for you as an instructor? Well, you might make some money on the first few courses you publish — provided that you can put together good learning content.
However, you might miss the chance of building a community with your content. Building community requires a certain degree of sustained interaction between both parties. You cannot easily do this with your students on the Udemy platform. In future articles, we will explore why this is the case.
It is also hard to create a custom after-sales funnel that will let you monetise satisfied students even further. Such features can complement platforms built with the Student-Technology paradigm. They can provide instructors with the chance to drive engagement and repeat sales of learning content.
Unfortunately, Udemy does not fully cater to that niche. The platform does not challenge the commonly held notion that technology alone cannot act as a wholesale substitute for a teacher.
“The problem with Udemy’s new pricing approach is that it completely disregards the segment of Udemy’s instructor base that brings their own customers to the platform. Some of us have spent months or even years building credibility with our following and can justify the higher price point – not only because our following has been engaged with us for so long, but because we actually know how to sell the value of our courses.”
James McAllister, Udemy Instructor
Before creating your course on Udemy, you need to understand how much you could earn on the platform.
You do not get to keep 100% of the sales made on a course, as your Udemy earning potential has to do with how you want your learning content promoted.
Therefore, as an instructor, you have the option of selecting from the following revenue sharing options offered by Udemy:
- Option 1: You receive 50% of sales if you do not opt into Udemy’s marketing and promotional schemes, as you are reliant on Udemy’s organic traffic to drive the sales of your learning content.
- Option 2: You receive 50% of sales if you do not opt into Udemy’s deals program. With this option, Udemy can offer up to 75% off your course or offer it as low as $10.
- Option 3: You receive 25% of sales if you sell a course through Udemy’s affiliates programme.
- Option 4: You receive 97% of sales if a student purchases your course with a coupon that you sent out.
Many people might argue that this is an exploitative revenue sharing model. For instance, if an instructor opted-in to all the promotions, then it means their courses would always sell at a deep discount. The instructor would also only get a small percentage of their sale, which benefits Udemy more than the instructor. As a result, an instructor has to look out for their interests proactively. If not, the platform could take advantage of them.
But when you are thinking of creating your first course, you probably don’t want the overhead of:
- Building a website;
- Maintaining a server; or
- Finding a direct sales channel to prospective students.
As a result, Udemy is a good starting point for any instructor who wants to create a course for the first time. After you’ve gained experience, you may be better off moving to a platform with a fairer revenue-sharing model, especially if you’re willing and able to do your marketing.
You do not own any relationships with your students on the Udemy platform, as Udemy does not give you access to their email addresses.
As mentioned earlier, this means you miss out on the opportunity to create after-sales funnels. These funnels help:
- Build a loyal audience around your business;
- Sell them new products; or
- Encourage the most passionate students to promote their brand on social media.
Udemy does not let you prominently feature your brand in your learning content. You also cannot encourage social media engagement through the Udemy platform. These restrictions can make it difficult for an instructor to build a community from day one. As community building is intrinsic to a brand’s success, an instructor must have full control over all of their delivery channels.
Starting any business or brand from scratch is an arduous task. Udemy allows first-time course creators to bootstrap onto their audience and infrastructure, allowing them to focus on creating learning content.
This approach works if you aren’t interested in building something with long-term growth potential. But if you want to sell courses and build a business that gives you full-ownership, then perhaps you need to see Udemy as more of a marketing channel.
We would suggest initially publishing a shorter version of your learning content on Udemy. You can then use the platform to find out if there is a product-market fit for your course. Following this, you can then look to upsell students a more in-depth version of your content on an online course platform with far more granular controls.
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