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Design Education Gets Smarter Online
Learn it on Wednesdsay, use it on Thursday

by Sam McMillan

Mika Salmi, CreativeLIVE CEO, believes that real classroom teaching is what sets the Seattle-based firm apart from its competition. “These are real people teaching real skills to real students. We’re live, we’re picky and we have great production values,” Salmi says. “We are personality-driven. We are an event every time we do things, whether it is a weeklong Photoshop workshop that attracted 150,000 viewers, or a 90-minute yoga class that attracted thousands of students.”

CreativeLIVE’s business model is based on live video sessions ranging from branding and marketing to glamour photography and the basics of using Lightroom. Classes are free to watch in real time. And that “real time” is the genius part. Yes, it’s free to tune in while a class is in session, and according to Salmi, typically about 30,000 viewers do so. But because CreativeLIVE classes run for hours, if not days, eventually a student will get up from their computer. For those who return, or simply want to watch at their convenience, the courses are available to download or stream at a cost ranging from $29 to $249.

Those students are watching from all over the world. Salmi says his core market is comprised of working professionals between the ages of 25 and 45, half of whom log in internationally. “We are teaching skills for the post-university world,” he says. These are students who want to advance their careers, develop the skills they need to start a new career, or start their own business.

For camera-ready instructors who offer classes at CreativeLIVE, the financial benefits are significant. According to Salmi, teachers typically earn five figures for each class they offer. Instructors who teach the most popular courses can earn over $100,000 per class.

Skillshare believes in learning by doing. Classes are project-based and hands-on, with students signing on, submitting work in progress, getting feedback and eventually uploading a final project. A typical class might engage a student in designing a poster, a web-site, a business plan or a meal. As Skillshare says, “learn anything from anyone, anywhere.”

Participation and feedback is key at Skillshare. Students in a typical design class begin an assignment with a sketch that gets scanned into a computer and uploaded for review. Based on feedback from classmates and the instructor, they might then begin a formal design exploration. Every step along the way, classmates and their instructor will offer feedback, contribute comments, ask questions and provide answers through threaded discussion groups.

While this model of interaction may not scale well in larger classes, engagement with faculty can be one-on-one in smaller classes. Comments in a web design course range from the insightful and precise: “The gradient is backward and makes the button look pushed in. Try flipping it,” to the vague: “The colors aren’t working for me.”

The poster child for Skillshare is, coincidently, a class on poster design. Its Rock Poster Design class has over 1,000 students enrolled at $20 each, earning the instructor approximately $20,000 in six weeks.

While Rock Poster Design may be a one-of-a-kind success, Skillshare is taking a more considered approach to curriculum design. Ethan Bodnar, dean of the School of Design on Skillshare, starts by looking at the skills the design community needs, then he produces “a content roadmap.” Skillshare reviews potential instructors’ credentials carefully. Bodnar wants to know if the teachers have the “domain authority to carry this off. Have they taught before? Do they have a client list? Do they have a portfolio of work?”

Most classes at Skillshare cost between $20 and $25. Skillshare takes a cut, leaving the individual instructor to reap the lion’s share of revenue. It’s a powerful business model. John Wiseman, vice president of marketing and partnerships at Skillshare, reports 30 percent month-over-month growth since launching online classes last August.

The economics of that success might earn an A in any classroom. ca McMillan
Sam McMillan is a San Francisco Bay Area-based writer, teacher and producer of interactive multimedia projects for a number of Bay Area production houses, and can be reached at