Tech in EdTech

Moving Beyond Traditional Platforms for Learning Delivery

January 25, 2022 Magic EdTech Season 1 Episode 11
Moving Beyond Traditional Platforms for Learning Delivery
Tech in EdTech
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Tech in EdTech
Moving Beyond Traditional Platforms for Learning Delivery
Jan 25, 2022 Season 1 Episode 11
Magic EdTech

In this episode, Karthik Gunasekaran of Udemy speaks to Dipesh Jain from Magic EdTech about the latest in learning delivery formats and cutting-edge education technology.


Show Notes Transcript

In this episode, Karthik Gunasekaran of Udemy speaks to Dipesh Jain from Magic EdTech about the latest in learning delivery formats and cutting-edge education technology.


Dipesh

Hello everyone welcome to another episode of Tech in EdTech. I'm Dipesh at Magic and today we have with us a very special guest, Karthik Gunasekaran. Karthik is the Head of Products and Engineering at Udemy, a company I think we all know. Um, and a great connection of mine as well. So Karthik, welcome to the show.


Karthik

Thank you, Dipesh. Happy to be part of your podcast. You know, really excited to be here. 


Dipesh

Thanks, Karthik and you know so just so everyone knows Karthik  has been at Udemy. He recently joined Udemy. Before that, he was at Kaplan before at ACT. Along with that, Karthik is also a Business Advisor at - Harvard Innovation Labs and MIT. That's a lot of things Karthik - how, how do you manage all of this and also can you give a background about yourself. How did you get into a tech and how do you manage all of this basically.?


Karthik

Yeah, sure I, I like to keep my hands full that’s how I see it. But yeah I think you know keep keeping myself engaged in all these channels. You know the the learning goes both ways. It's not just me trying to help other companies build their build their business. But it's all about learning from them also. Especially at Harvard and MIT, all the advising that I do some of these new innovations, you know, that come out are I know it's it's really exciting to see you know what the possibilities for the future look like. So yeah, that's I know it, it just keeps my mind young. So I try to do that all the time. But yeah, back on about myself. Um, you know I'm an engineer at heart I think that's 1 thing I really love. My engineering days were probably 1 of the best days you know in in terms of  ofcourse knowledge gaining. But also the times that I've had you know the the good conversations I've had and the the company that I had at the time. Worked at Honeywellll and in the energy industry as a core engineer. Was there for a few years then thought of going to business school. Thought about you know, commercializing new technologies that was something I was passionate about - how do new innovations come to the Market. So you know thought I should you know you know, get some business knowledge on that and during business school and I was part of a startup - Mobile EdTech startup - that was my first venture into entrepreneurship. I was literally the fourth employee in the company apart from the founders of the company, scale the company. Once I graduated I know you know was just part of the startup I mean we literally started from a hundred thousand dollar grant and went on to raise a few million dollars in investments. After a few years, left that startup I mean not all startups are gonna become a Udemy or a Facebook or an apple you know things do plateau but  the lessons learned learned in the entrepreneurship journey was very very valuable. From then on went to head the product team at ACT. It's an online assessment company. Then at Kaplan which is 1 of those large education providers in the world. I was heading their product innovation team again trying to work on new technologies and bringing them to the market of the education industry and then yeah now heading the products and engineering department at Udemy is specifically exploring you know new modalities of delivering our ed tech products on native applications like the mobile phone, TVs, car and infotainment systems and where else, what are what are all the possibilities? So that's the exploration that I'm ah you know I'm um, I'm heading.


Dipesh

I find the TV piece very interesting. We'll hold on to that Karthik and I'll definitely touch base on that. But Udemy I think everybody is familiar I remember Karthik 1 of the first courses I took in my life outside of school or college was on Udemy. And I still remember that course very vividly. It was I think SQL it was 1 of the first few courses and learned about sql databases the 2 the 2 instructors were very funny and I mean I remember them for their style of teaching that was this was I'm I'm saying 7 years back and things have changed a lot since then and now you just recently IPO’ed um, tell us a little about what Udemy is doing right now. What are the challenges that Udemy is solving um and and how how does all of that roll into your role?


Karthik

Sure, yeah, um I think Udemy is 1 of those unique companies where it is the largest marketplace um platform for education. So in in other words I see it as this I mean to democratize education, you got to be you got to be making courses that are you know a. affordable the barriers to entry is low. Like. For example, if I want to learn something about artificial intelligence which is a very, very high skilled course. I shouldn't be paying a few thousand dollars right off the bat to you know, go and see what artificial intelligence is rather it's about you know exploring first, you know making it more accessible, in terms of price point for people to be exposed to this ah concept of artificial intelligence before they dive deep into it and then you know all of a sudden think that you've spent a few thousand dollars and end up and end up not knowing much. So so the the breadth of courses available on Udemy is very high. Anybody, any instructor with their unique you know teaching methodologies can create a course on the Udemy platform on various subjects that they're passionate about and then make it available. We today have about 185000 courses on the platform. And it literally is growing at the rate of I believe a few thousand courses every month. Um, so with that kind of breadth,  name a course and you you have it I mean do I need a course to how do I learn piano you have that you do I you know should i. Is that a course on how to fold my blanket. Yeah, you have a course for that. 


Dipesh

I I think I need to take I need to take that course on folding my blanket. Um, I’m really really bad at that - and short and t-shirts…so, yea, go on.


Karthik

Yeah, ah well I yeah ah yeah, exactly so it's like um the the idea of democratizing is that everybody is good at something and everybody can teach something. With their own, you know, unique, teaching methodology and you can create a course and make it available on Udemy and yeah people can learn from you. You can you know you have a business you know going that way so in that way Udemy is it's it's uniquely set. Ah, now you know you know this length and breadth of courses has made us so powerful that um are are ah language offerings on the course language offerings on Udemy is probably 1 of the widest we have but you know multiple languages covered which is why. Expanding globally is 1 of the key strategies of Udemy we are expanding heavily in the asian markets. We recently went into a partnership to expand in The Africas. South america is a big area of growth for us already. So it's like um, you know geoexpansion because our platform hosts courses in multiple languages.


Dipesh

That's awesome and also I think what what it does is when you have courses in multiple languages, you also make it a little more Inclusive. There are multilingual people people don't understand 1 Language. I feel that having your products in multiple languages always going to help that. So I think that's that's amazing and it's interesting to see that kind of a growth also in the creator economy you see a lot of search in creators wanting to monetize their skills. So so I think that's fantastic.


Karthik

I think the credit economy is ah you know is a big is 1 of our biggest advantages we have about 65000 plus instructors on the platform today and and it's only growing. So I think you know what we are entering a time  in terms of platforms where the creative economy is going to grow big I believe it was at a five hundred billion dollars and plus growing market. Yeah, but but we are going into too much of the market sizing. But the instructor economy or the created economy is going to you know it's only going to grow so there is a big opportunity there for various platforms in education.


Dipesh

Yeah, so um, you know that's good to know and that's you know, great to see that kind of progress now I want to come back to that question on seeing since especially after the Pandemic, ah, people realized that upskilling suddenly became you know upskilling was always there. Everybody wanted to upskill. But after the pandemic we saw a lot of lot of demand for upskilling um people wanting recession-proof careers. Um, what is how is all of that shaped your strategy at Udemy and how is that guiding your road map ahead? And and just what do you see that implication on Udemy yes, but also on their tech, what what do you see that where do you see that going.


Karthik

Yeah, sure. Um I think the pandemic did boost the business of a lot of different companies. The ed tech, edtech industry in general being 1 major beneficiary of the pandemic and I think companies like Udemy have I mean of of course have benefited from that. But. I think it is it kind of exposed a large gap that existed before the pandemic and probably people or companies didn't pay much attention to it. Um is the is the need for is the urgent need for reskilling and upskilling. A lot of the skills are becoming outdated you know in a matter of years and um, you know it used to be a few years now it's probably in a matter of months that new upgrades and new languages and new kinds of technologies are coming up. It's important to you know for for employees and people in general to you know to to be in touch with these new Technologies. But by that measure you know companies like Udemy which they're with their large course offerings where if anything new comes up our refresh rate in terms of course creation is quite high like tomorrow there might be a new technology a new language that pops up and you might see those those courses coming up on the Udemy platform. So we have a high refresh rate of courses. So when a technology course that's available if there is a new version of it or something becomes outdated., you can see that reflected you know pretty quickly on the platform. So that's 1 of the biggest advantages of udemy where our courses stay relevant with the times. It's more meaningful and it helps users in reskilling and upskilling as quickly as possible. That's 1 of our biggest advantages and I think what the pandemic did was it showed that strong point or the strength to multiple businesses. We today have about nine thousand plus enterprise customers and it is growing at ah, quite a rapid rate and the value that businesses see there for the for the employees is that our refresh rate is quite high. Um any new technologies, any new versions, you know the businesses have that access to those skills and can make that available to their employees as quickly as possible without having to wait for you know, certain updates to happen on and and on a yearly basis and you know, have some downtime under them. So so this is 1 of our biggest advantages I think the pandemic really propelled ah that that need which is why we see the enterprise business alone growing at the rate of 80 percent year over year. We just released our third Quarter results ah last week and you can see that impact happening. So yeah I think that's the impact of the pandemic in general now where do we see this and what's the industry-wide trend going Beyond? I think there's reskilling and upskilling now that the pandemic exposed importance I think it's only going to stay ah, that that need is going to stick with a lot of industries and I do see a future where the need for reskilling and upskilling becoming a core part of people's performance objectives in companies the LnD department of various companies embracing these new tools for reskillling and upskilling and you know yeah I I also see the modalities of delivery you know, going much beyond the web only you know model of content delivery I mean we've already seen smartphones and applications, you know, kind of gaining fraction in delivering education effectively I do see you know these kinds of courses and learning happening beyond even the you know even the mobile phones and you know other modalities. Be it the TVs or the Alexas or the the Google Smart Homes etc. So I think there's going to be a much wider impact in terms of technology innovation on in education which is being propelled by this pandemic and you know keeps growing that way.


Dipesh

That's yeah, that's so true and that's fantastic to hear 1 is the growth in Enterprise. So yes, companies are obviously paying a lot of attention ah and helping reskill and upscale their employees. You know I was once in a discussion with with 1 of my friends who's an entrepreneur has a pretty sizable company and I asked him you know what is the biggest challenge that you see for yourself. 1 of the things that he mentioned was really something that you know that that really made me think he said that I want my employees to grow in their career and in their personal journey and I really have taken this subscription and I want our employees to learn and you so that those are the kind of challenges he did not talk about revenue, he did not talk about profitability.


Karthik

Mm hmm.


Dipesh

And all of that because he knows that if he helps the employees grow all of this will come as a part of that. So, so it is very interesting to see that trend. 

Karthik

Yeah I think that actually remains me of a joke where you know I think it was it was I believed as a Dilbert Comic or somewhere I did this so It's a conversation between a CEO and the CFO where cfo is asking like. Um, what if you spend all of this money in your employees learning and development and then they leave and for that the CEO retorts back saying what if we don't and they stay. 


Dipesh

Yes, yes I remember that one. .


Karthik

So yeah I think that's a question I think every company is asking today and it's very important that we invest in the reskilling and upskilling of employees..


Dipesh

Yeah, and I think so there are 2 things that you mentioned here which I want to focus on  - 1 is um, you know this companies including the learning and development goals in KRAs or parameters for enterprise I think that is a very interesting trend. I ask my team members to share their learning and development goals with me just so that you know you keep each other accountable, you help each other grow I think that's a very very and I really feel that that should become more and more and more a part of people's performance that you know - how are they upskilling what kind of training, certifications, learning and all of that? So I think that was very interesting The second thing was - we always talk about learning anytime, anywhere. You you spoke about the refresh rate which kind of takes care of learning anytime. So you know I don't have to wait for the year to end or for six months to end before I get my hands on the course. You know if there's a trend let's say that trend is crypto is not a trend anymoreit started long time back, but there's web 3 and these new so I shouldn't be waiting for some time to get there. I should be getting content anytime. So that's the refresh rate that you spoke about. And then we come going and this is where I want to pick your brain on learning anywhere and moving beyond the web and mobile - what do you see that as how do you see that growing you mentioned TV which is so interesting that you know your tv is generally. People connoted TV as a something that you know “Idiot box” and all of that. How do you plan to turn that “Idiot Box” into “Smart Box”?


Karthik

So yeah, sure I think in order to understand where you know the trends are going I think we need to go back in in our history in our internet history and see you know, but what the trends have been so in the back in the eightys when you know internet was you know, kind of getting into people's homes and you all the games and you know and new trends in computer software is coming up - the the learning pretty much happened only in front of a computer right? And that's it whenever you turn on the desktop that's when you know you can learn something or play something and that's that's probably where your attention was and that continued back in the ninetys in where it grew where the attention span of human beings you know, probably from books to desktop was the desktops were taking a good share of that attention span. Now in the mid 2000s with the advent of smartphones, that attention span had to now be divided between desktops, books, and you know the smartphones. So we had another new entry called the smartphones come up and I think this last decade the 2010 to 2020 was the decade of the smartphones with the app proliferations which is how even you know I became part of that the mobile edtech company like you know we started that own our own startup in that area apps became a big part of education so that took the the attention span ah, the the percentage of attention span on Smartphones grew. In fact I think it was more like 50-50 where fifty percent on desktop learning stuff for Ed Tech and fifty person goes on smartphones and I think that trend is still growing. Now what has happened is towards the end of that decade, we saw all these smart devices like ah Alexa Smart TVs come up and all these car infotainment systems. All these new modes of you know personalization platforms coming up which started taking a piece of that you know humans attention span which is why I think they say our attention span is slowly ah shrinking to the size of the attention span of a rodent. So it's increasingly hard to you know have human beings focus on 1 particular platform. So this is a problem. But the same time, this is what we see as an opportunity. So if you think about it if if we have multiple modes of distraction, you know 1 time I'm looking at my phone and all of a sudden my smart device Alexa says something and I get distracted by that and then I have to go look at something on the web.

And then I'm I'm driving and my car entertainment system says something. How can we use that you know these you know distractions to multiple modes as a form of delivering seamless learner experience on each of these platforms. So that's the problem I'm trying to solve where you know I'm learning something on the desktop and yeah, seamlessly get you know transferred to a native device and then seamlessly continue from where I left off on a smart TV and from there to my infotainment systems or Alexas or wherever so how do we connect all of these different modes and still you know make it useful, useful for humans to keep learning something without being distracted so that's the that's 1 big goal I think which a lot of edtech companies are going to try to solve I think if we can do that and show that there is ah much impactful learning happening on through these course delivery mechanisms on these multiple platforms. I think we have a big opportunity probably that's probably the bigger opportunity a bigger bigger problem to solve over the next five years.

Dipesh

Well, I think that's that's yeah, what? how I look at it is the continuum of learning right? So so you start somewhere, you move on to some other modality I'll give you 1 example like recently I was um I was traveling I was on the flight and what I would usually do is either I go to sleep or I watch a movie or do some bit of book reading. But this time I wanted to complete this course, again, happens to be Udemy, but I downloaded the course offline I went into the flight. And I took that time to actually I had my notebook next to me and the phone next to me and I actually took the time to complete that course which which I wouldn't have done if not for this. And then I also have this this app called Knowable which is on my headphone which has audio courses. So so I think that continuum of learning is so powerful and it's very interesting to see how it goes on to the TV. So I think I think that's that's a great problem to solve but I I see, I see some very interesting trends ahead of us. Another example I think my kid whose 3 year old talks better to Alexa than I spoke on my first dates. He's just so good with he's just so good with Alexa, um, and I see that he will learn language or anything on Alexa faster than he would learn it ah somewhere else I mean that's that's how I see it.


Karthik

Yeah I think this is exactly what the what the change is right I mean the the newer generations you know, growing up. They're growing up in a different in a different world where all these smart devices already exist. We have seen the innovation and the introduction of these smart devices in our homes. But for them it's a given like this is like by default I mean Alexa or ah Okay Google is is part of a household where they grew up where they're growing up so you know when when that's the expectation um, you know in the next 10 years when these people grow up it is it's only it's it's only important that we should have already solved the delivery of various learning courses or or anything for that example for for that matter you know on these devices. Because they they only grow comfortable with these technologies and maybe new devices will be invented and newer modes of communication going to come up so it's important to keep innovating and be at par with the latest trends and I think education in general has a bad rep when it comes to Innovation. We deliver all these you know courses, but the way we deliver the way teaching happens or the way learning happens is always being slow to adapt um, you know to to the to new technologies. So I think that's probably where the new age edtech startups. Such asUdemy, Coursera and ah you know every any other company these are they're all trying to solve that solve for that problem and you know you know really make the education industry much more attractive with these the technological elevations.

Dipesh

I yeah absolutely I think this is really good Karthik just want to to think about what do you see? What are the kind of challenges that you might foresee on this journey. Um, you know, maybe talent, maybe I don't know I mean you know, what are the things that you know or that you're preparing for as you move on this journey of creating this learning experience. 

Karthik

So I think that's probably a very good question because technology - technologies you know can are very attractive. We can build some of those really amazing applications for for for a lot of things and I mean we can probably teach a course on um, you know on a new platform, deliver it, etc. But I think the real question to ask is are we providing the right kind of learning to the user? In other words is there and learning happening wherein the user listens to a course on an audiobook or on ah on their phones or on their car infotainment systems or on an alexa. Is there actual measurable learning taking place or is it just being consumed and nothing gets retained? I think this is an this is an important question to ask because technologies can be cool - You know you can just build cool technologies for the sake of being cool. Ah. But I think measuring the actual learning is going to be quite important. I think that's the more the most difficult problem to be to to solve here. We can always build new applications on other platforms and make that available. You know to to the for users. But how do we measure that learning? So this is 1 of the things that you know I think Udemy at at Udemy we are working on and I think we've seen a lot of case studies where the impact is happening. For example in our B2B Business, we have multiple case studies where ah have. Employees who consumed our courses that companies were able to see better engagement from employees, better completion rates on that particular school that they learned on Udemy being used you know and solving for problems in certain projects and the productivity increases. So, these are all case studies that we are seeing so it's it's important that as we you know, innovate in multiple other platforms and keep growing, we keep ourselves grounded with such data to to to validate all of those learnings. If we cannot measure the learning happening in any cool technology that we build then it's not.. it's not really valuable for the User. So I think that's where we are responsibly trying to innovate making sure that you know there is an actual impact to the user taking place.


Dipesh

That's you know ]It all boils down to learning efficacy and learning outcomes right? What what has been the impact of this learning?


Karthik

Exactly yeah I mean without that impact. It's there is no point you know in in in going further. So I think that that's 1 of the reasons why I said the learning outcomes or performance objectives, learning as a performance objective you know is getting more traction in Companies..


Dipesh

So This has been great Karthik. Thank you so much - I think some really good insights. How do we see and I think now I'm envisioning the future of learning everywhere. Um, So so thank you for sharing all those insights. I think also a lot has to be, you know, there's a lot to learn from your progress in that tech Space. You know start you working on a startup then moving from big companies advising. So I think that's ah, that's a very.. It's a good journey something that even I kind of aspire to emulate. Ah before we wrap up Karthik, any anything that you want to add any you know anything that you want to plug in please feel free to.


Karthik

Yeah sure I mean at at Udemy you know we are doing some really great things in terms you know in terms of delivering these courses to our audience. We're constantly innovating and we are growing as you may have never heard the news, we recently went public. And we are always looking for great talent to join the company if you are a lifelong learner and is interested in mastering new skills, if you have that ambition and drive I would highly recommend you know, joining our team or specifically my team I'm building a new office for Udemy in the Northeast area um Boston being a hub and anywhere in the Northeast is you know is ah is an area of focus for us in terms of hiring and retention. So. If you're interested. You know do look up our careers website and do join us.


Dipesh

You yeah and you can find Karthik on Linkedin Karthik Gunasekaran and feel free to connect with him so this was great. Karthik thank you so much and it's great having you on the show.


Karthik

Thank you so much for the opportunity Dipesh, it was great talking to you.