Udemy: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

A large-scale shift to online learning over the past 9 months has made Udemy an increasingly popular platform. Instructors and subject matter experts in all kinds of fields are experimenting with how to translate their content to digital formats, and with over 150,000 online courses in literally every topic, Udemy is a clear frontrunner. From graphic design to physical geology, Udemy offers courses in a broad range of subject areas for an unbeatable price (often made even more affordable by discounts and free options).

But how is Udemy for instructional designers? Or for instructors/subject matter experts?

My older brother and I recently launched our first course on Udemy, English for Professional Emailing. The project took about one month to set up, with most of that time going into content development, video editing, and traditional ID work. The course includes 17 self-graded knowledge checks and 9 graded assignments.

While this project was a great experience to build an online course and market it, as well as an opportunity to collaborate on a creative project with my brother, there were significant challenges along the way.

Below, I present my review of Udemy: the good, the bad, and the ugly.

The Good

With over 9,200 students enrolled in our course thus far, I can confidently say that Udemy is a great resource to generate revenue in any discipline you feel comfortable with. The platform sends traffic to your course after you receive 5 positive reviews, and there are plenty of blogs and social marketing groups to market your course.

After we launched our course, we quickly learned the value of feedback, which I’d consider one of Udemy’s primary strengths. With each enrollment, we received the student’s contact information (for internal communication), and we were able to get real-time feedback, which allowed us to update the course over and over again. We are still doing this.

In addition to providing feedback on coursework as it unfolds, students continue to send messages about what other courses they’d be interested in taking. We already have over 150 students who want a second course in English for Marketing.

As for the actual course development, Udemy did a great job with generating automatic subtitles to each video. This saved us hours of working time! Aside from this function, most of the development work falls under “the bad and ugly” of Udemy.

The Bad

Over 9,200 students! That’s incredible, right?

Yes and no.

We planned to share a free coupon on a limited basis for marketing purposes. After sharing the coupon in a few Facebook groups, I went to sleep, and when I woke up, over 8,000 students had enrolled using the free coupon!

This level of uptake was not part of our plan, and it means that a lot of grading work lies in the weeks ahead. One positive, however, is that the reviews and referrals from this initial batch have carried over into new sales.

For course development, the Udemy platform just didn’t feel right. In order to visually enhance the course, we needed to spend hours moving design elements into separate photos, and dragging them into the course. If we had to do it again, we’d design the entire course on PowerPoint and import the slides, but it’s too late.

The Ugly

The Ugly goes back to course development. The design process was extremely difficult, but thankfully most of that work fell under my older brother’s responsibilities.

For content development, here are two of our biggest complaints:

  1. Udemy lagged a bit and deleted pages of content - more than once

  2. The look and feel of assignments were terrible

Bottom Line

Overall, I strongly suggest Udemy as a resource for business professionals, instructors, and subject matter experts to make money. As far as outcome goes, it’s a brilliant platform that ultimately delivers high-quality content and assignments. Students also seem to really enjoy its accessibility and its price point.

I would, however, suggest that anyone looking to build a course on Udemy hire both an instructional designer and a marketing expert to do some of the dirty work. Considering the platform’s shortcomings on the development side of things, working with an experienced ID would make a big difference in bypassing challenges that can otherwise take up a lot of time and labor. An ID professional can also align your learning objectives to the content and make a course more engaging. Similarly, a marketing professional can help connect students with your course without falling into the free coupon trap that we encountered.

With the right support, Udemy is a valuable tool for both instructors and students. I plan to keep using it in the future and recommend it to other instructors who are working to transition into an online environment.


About Xan Aird:

Xan Aird is a creative professional from New York City. While he is known for his music career, touring with and supporting The Killers, Weezer, Kings of Leon and more, he is also an expert in creative design.

About Me:

I'm James, a learning & development professional with over 5 years of international experience, working with governments, non-government organizations (NGO), and private sector clients. I strongly value and advocate for educational technology and innovative learning design. Connect with me here.

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