Changing Pace to Serve Employers: Changing the Face of Professional Development
The labor market is evolving so rapidly that employees can’t keep pace. As technology advances, the half-life of skills shrinks. This isn’t just a problem for the working professionals, but for the organizations that employ them. Udemy, launched as a learner-driven massive open online course (MOOC) platform, is shifting its focus to supporting corporate learning. But are the demands of the labor market accelerating even beyond the capacity of MOOC providers? In this interview, Shelley Osborne shares her insights into why, and how, Udemy switched to serving the corporate market and reflects on what it takes to keep up with the demands of industry.
The EvoLLLution (Evo): Why is it critical to create more access to ongoing learning opportunities for working professionals?
Shelley Osborne (SO): The world we live and work in right now is changing dramatically. At Udemy, we believe that skills are the new currency. They’re what we need to get ahead, succeed and work in our everyday jobs. It’s fascinating when we look at how rapidly skills are changing. We’re seeing a half life of about five years for a newly learned skill. As a learning professional myself, that’s really exciting, but it can also be really challenging. To grow in our jobs and maintain the relevant skills for our roles, we’re constantly going to have to reinvent ourselves throughout our careers.
Deloitte predicts that employees have to reinvent themselves about 10 times in the average career now, in order to stay up to date. That goes along with our own desires to change, grow and develop. This reinvention isn’t just relevant for individuals, but we have to think about this from the organizational perspective as well. Every single business that wants to stay successful, to make sure they stay on top of their game, has to be thinking about not only development as a business but also the development of a workforce.
Evo: Why is Udemy pursuing the corporate market, rather than continuing to focus on individual learners?
SO: We recognized pretty early on that a large portion of our learners on Udemy.com were visiting mostly for professional reasons. They wanted to learn a new skill to either get a promotion or prepare for their next project at work. The beauty of the Udemy for Business platform is that it takes a proactive approach to supporting those learners.
Udemy for Business allows organizations to be really strategic and thoughtful about supporting individual learners in a more collective fashion and offer diverse learning opportunities for anyone in the organization. It’s unlikely, for example, that two employees in different roles within a company will have the same learning needs. Udemy for Business facilitates the delivery of contextual skills development at scale. It’s something I think HR and learning leaders have struggled with for a long time. We’ve tried to create it all ourselves. We’ve tried to treat everybody exactly the same and have them all learn the exact same skill and that simply doesn’t work, especially in today’s constantly shifting digital world.
We’re also able to go beyond just providing content. Udemy for Business uses really powerful measurement and analytics tools that help organizations understand how learning is connected to their business strategy, and dive a little bit deeper into what’s going on. Why are people learning this specific thing? Why do people care about a specific skill? So, it really gives corporate leaders—whether it be someone in a learning leader role, or HR, maybe it’s an executive, maybe it’s a manager—the ability to dive in on the strategic side and understand how and what people are learning, and better use that data to set a direction.
Evo: What are the challenges of serving employers instead of individual learners?
SO: First and foremost, they are different transactions. They’re not the exact same approach and they’re at a different moment in time. When I think about a learner who visits our Udemy.com marketplace, they’re really there for that moment of need. They have a “right here, right now” mentality.
When we interact with an organization, it’s a larger narrative. It’s a bigger story about how we can leverage our entire learning marketplace across an employee lifecycle. Then, it becomes about how we can leverage the content within our marketplace to help the organization meet its strategic objectives. We’re thinking about it holistically, and then feeding targeted offerings designed to move individuals—and their organizations—forward.
There is a duality to it. Fundamentally, we still maintain a learner-first mindset, but when it comes to Udemy for Business, we also think about the more macro picture of how all this learning can come together to meet a corporate objective.
Evo: What do employers look for when they’re trying to find a long-term learning partner?
SO: One of the central factors that employers prioritize is learning relevance.
This rapid change that we’re experiencing in work is true for learning in general. We’re not keeping the same skills; it’s about what’s relevant. When we look at education providers through that lens, it’s really easy to fall behind with content or with what skills matter. Today’s world is so fast-paced that it can be difficult to keep up.
That’s the biggest challenge for any educational provider. Programming can’t stay static. It has to keep up with the pace of change that those learners are feeling. If you’re not doing that, you’re not serving their needs.
Evo: How do you meet the needs of HR managers who are trying to process batch enrollments or things along those lines?
SO: Having been in the corporate learning space for a long time, this is a pain point all around. We’ve heard stories for years about terrible learning management system (LMS) experiences and the way we approach learning being very push versus pull. It’s a big focus for our product team. We’re always thinking about how we can have a stronger, better experience for our learners. We work closely with a lot of our customers and develop feedback loops, but the fundamental way we think about learning is that democratized fashion. We give organizations the ability to interject and connect with their strategy while at the same time creating access for their employees.
Now, it varies organization by organization how they choose to use Udemy for Business. They might be really targeted. For example, they might be looking specifically at some digital transformation work connected to learning a new programming language or moving to the cloud. Other organizations are going to be thinking about soft skills development in this digital transformation space where we know hard skills are constantly shifting. These offerings would focus on developing the business skills that someone needs to be successful.
So, it’s different and unique depending on each customer that we work with. The beauty, again because of the sheer breadth of our marketplace, is that we can serve all those needs. We work in the background as well. When we’re connecting and recommending those courses, we’re looking at the quality of the learning experiences. Do they have practical activities? Are they suited for this environment? We inject as much learning science as we can and are always pushing innovation forward.
Evo: Is there anything you’d like to add about the growth of Udemy for Business platform?
SO: For me, it’s been a dream job to watch how we’re able to support people around the world in their lives and learning. Our mission as a company to improve lives through learning is pretty special.
We’re trying to help employees do what comes next, which is something we can all relate to. What I think is pretty unique and special is that because of the way we open access to education, our democratized approach, there’s no one doing anything like this. We’ve seen around this corner. We’ve seen that there’s knowledge in every part of the world. Let’s unlock that. Let’s take away this control element to learning that’s been embedded for centuries and open the gates to let people learn.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.