A while back, I started uploading full courses on Udemy, one of those free-online-education-for-all websites. The results have been…not at all encouraging. I know this is a small sample, but I currently have four reviews between the two courses. They average out to exactly two stars. Yikes!
Is it me? I don’t think so. I checked my YouTube statistics. This year, my videos have received 1388 likes and just 80 dislikes, or roughly 95% positive. Strangely, the quality my videos on Udemy is much better than the average quality of my videos on YouTube; the Udemy videos have all been shot recently with a professional microphone, while the YouTube videos are a combination of those and some with flat terrible sound quality.
So what gives? I think the answer is in the type of students looking at each of these videos. Most of my YouTube viewers are American, British, Canadian, or Australian. I hypothesize that these students have long university lectures, get bored, and prefer finding their material in short clips. They are the YouTube generation indeed. I have long understood this to be my target audience, and have correspondingly made sure to keep my videos under ten minutes whenever possible.
Udemy, meanwhile, does not keep statistics like YouTube does, but it is safe to say that I am looking at a completely different audience. Udemy emails you whenever someone enrolls in your course, and the names very rarely sound English. And, if one the reviews is indicative of anything, they want longer lectures:
Lectures should be longer, and it’s fundamental the presence of more examples. The topics starts and ends very soon, and it’s really hard to catch something concrete.
I think this highlights a strange dichotomy in online education. From what I hear, free online course offerings (Coursera, MITx, Udemy, etc.) draw a bulk (and perhaps a majority) of their students from places without access to affordable, quality educational institutions. They replace primary teaching. In the United States, Canada, Australia and Western Europe, online education supplements preexisting university education or is used as a form of entertainment, not unlike watching PBS documentaries. Westerners dread clicking on 60 minute videos, either because they just want you to get to the point so they can complete their homework assignment or because faster paced clips are more entertaining. Any extraneous information is just that: extraneous. If you aren’t providing them with the answer to their particular problem, it’s time to move on.
It will be interesting to see how online education evolves over time. Currently, institutions like Stanford, MIT, and Yale essentially replicate the offline experience online. This seems to draw more international viewers. My niche has been providing the short clips, and I have pretty much monopolized that market for game theory and am currently trying to do the same for international relations. I suspect my method is ultimately the better way to make money (by running more ads and selling books to Western people with more money) and to draw people to attend a particular university (again, since Western people have more money).
I will not speculate about normative implications here. The former strategy certainly seems most benevolent, and there is nothing wrong with that. However, everyone else seems to be going that direction, so I will be sticking to the short (but financially prudent) clips.
 Udemy allows instructors to charge for courses, which puts an interesting spin on the concept of free-for-all.
 I once complained when Game Theory 101: The Complete Textbook got its first review, which was one star. But all reviews since then have been four or five stars, so it is now sitting pretty at 4.3 stars overall. Note that 4.3 rounds up to 4.5, so it actually appears better than it really is.
 I am not referring to online institutions like University of Phoenix here, which could be the subject of a different rant altogether.