Is Teaching the New Feather for Your Professional Cap?


At some point, publishing a book became the must-have accomplishment for business people to include in their professional profiles. Along those lines, I've been noticing something interesting happening in the Udemy marketplace. We've been seeing more and more professionals turning to online teaching as a way to build their personal brands, extend their influence, and foster a more dynamic, multidirectional dialog with their followers.

Not only is teaching online a great way to demonstrate expertise, it's perhaps the most effective way to share that expertise with a virtually limitless global audience that's checking in from smartphones while on the go or from living rooms, offices, commuter trains, etc. And that, in turn, is a huge benefit to would-be students, who wouldn't otherwise have access to these high-quality experts.

Nowadays, when influencers want to broadcast a message, they can't skip delivering it as on-demand video. Simply put, most consumers cite video as the format they prefer over reading text, and they have unprecedented control over the viewing experience too. We've all gotten used to consuming entertainment on our own terms, at our own pace, on our own schedules. Forget the TV listings; you can watch any episode of any show whenever you want.

Professional content creators of all stripes have to meet those same consumer expectations of freedom and flexibility. Books are still plenty popular, but they're just one ingredient in the media mix people are feeding on. That's why more non-teachers are recognizing the power of online courses to help their audiences absorb information and apply what they've learned. With video-based courses, their expertise is available whenever people want it, and it's easy for students to engage in relevant discussions with the expert and with each other.

A slew of well-known influencers have signed on to create courses on Udemy, including entrepreneur and marketing maven Seth Godin, bestselling author Elizabeth Gilbert, and New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof. What they have in common is a desire to serve their expertise to as many people as possible. We actually asked Nick Kristof and his wife/co-instructor Sheryl WuDunn to tell us why they felt an online course made sense for sharing their messages about global opportunity and empowering women. They had already published books and made TV documentaries on these topics, "But frankly, not everyone reads books: Picking up a 300-page book is a significant barrier, while watching videos may be a little easier and friendlier." Essentially, given the multitude of ways people find and consume information today, Nick and Sheryl recognized the need to deliver content in many different formats to satisfy them; in other words, the decision to publish a course was driven by their audience's needs.

This evolution from books to courses isn't just something for people who already have a highly visible public persona either. There are Udemy instructors who've adapted self-published e-book content for their video courses and vice-versa after finding that the two formats worked well in tandem. I talked to one student who came to Udemy to learn about creating and hosting a webinar and decided to create an online course instead so people anywhere could access it indefinitely. Another instructor told us she's been getting more speaking engagements since her online courses started gaining attention, demonstrating how these efforts reinforce each other and contribute to overall results.

In other words, for many professionals, especially freelancers, consultants, entrepreneurs, and the self-employed, teaching online is one of the best ways to build out an audience and serve more "customers" without being hindered by time, geography, or logistical restrictions. While additional income is great, for many of these folks, there are other benefits worth having, like connecting with students in far-flung locations and being able to "teach" a course on demand whenever people are ready to learn, no matter the time of day or night.

We know the internet is democratizing access to education for students, but it's also opening more doors for subject-matter experts who want to distribute their content more widely. It ends up being a win-win, as instructors stretch their muscles in new directions to strengthen their professional profiles, and students have more opportunities than ever to learn from the best.