A Year From Launch, Skillshare Lands $6M From USV, Spark To Double Down On Its Project-Based, Online Classes

Skillshare launched in 2011 to give those interested in continuing to learn outside the classroom a place to get real-world skills from both online and offline classes. Over the past year, the New York-based startup has moved towards the massive, open online course approach, connecting subject experts across industries with anyone looking to “get their learn on” through interactive, video-based lessons.

Skillshare’s growth has accelerated since, with over 100K paid enrollments in over 500 classes, while the platform’s most successful teacher made over $100K on Skillshare in 2013 — a number which Seth Godin has since broken thanks to his lessons and advice for budding entrepreneurs. With monetization starting to pick up and its course catalog continuing to expand, Skillshare is looking to double down on its online lesson platform in 2014 by adding more courses (particularly in business, design and tech), extending student support and by finally taking its platform mobile.

To do that, the startup is adding some more coin to its coffers, with $6 million in new funding in a round co-led by Union Square Ventures and Spark Capital. The new investment brings Skillshare’s total capital to $10 million.

With its project-based and skills-focused approach to online learning, Skillshare is now part of a growing set of companies leveraging the advances in video and communications technology to make continuing education accessible to and affordable for the masses. However, unlike video-based education platforms like Lynda.com, CreativeLive, Khan Academy and Curious, for example, Skillshare claims it’s on a short list of companies offering lessons that are both live and interactive, as well as courses that are more project-based and allow students to learn at their own pace.

The idea, says co-founder and CEO Michael Karnjanaprakorn, is to create a learning experience in which students are able to get face-to-face time with teachers via online office hours and focus on learning through completing projects and receiving peer feedback — not by digitizing the lecture hall or learning for the sake of earning a badge. Skillshare wants to capitalize on the growing demand for skills-based learning content, thanks to the ever-changing and increasingly competitive (and technical) job market.

To lower the barriers to entry and attract those looking to add new skills to their CVs, Skillshare operates as an open platform — meaning that anyone can submit an application to bring their classes (or subject expertise) online. The platform allows teachers and subject experts to design classes and projects for their students to complete live or at their leisure, along with the ability to add supplemental content, from syllabi to relevant lectures, while allowing students to participate in discussions, submit projects and receive feedback on their work.

With new capital under its belt, Skillshare is also looking to boost student engagement by making its platform, and the learning experience itself, more social. To avoid making students feel as if they’re learning in a vacuum, the startup recently launched an activity feed to give students the ability to track teachers, other students, as well as skills and projects from across the platform to see what people are up to and keep tabs on how others are using the platform.

The goal, over the long term, is to build a more active social community, where students are given more opportunities to get to know each other and build relationships with actual people, rather than just breeze through a week-long course and move on. With greater community interaction and engagement, the stickier the Skillshare experience becomes, or at least that’s what the team is hoping.

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