Free Enterprise Staff  | January 20, 2015

An Entrepreneur Is Democratizing Education, One Online Class at a Time

Over the past few years, entrepreneurs have set their sights on education, reimagining how and what people learn. Among the crop of emergent startups is Skillshare, which offers practical, web-based classes on a huge array of topics to users.

What kinds of skills can you learn on Skillshare? Well, take a cursory glance at the site and you’ll see everything from cooking tutorials on how to cut and prepare meat to step-by-step guides on how to create video games for anyone who lacks coding skills. Skillshare has also simplified the traditional tuition system for its users, offering a three-tiered, affordable membership plan that ranges from a free offering to a premium team program.

We wanted to learn more about Skillshare, so we sat down with Michael Karnjanaprakorn, the company’s founder and CEO, who talked about his own education, background, his inspiration for the business, and where he hopes to take it in the future. 

Can you talk about your background and where the idea for Skillshare came from?

Education has always been a priority in my life. When I was 10, my parents moved our family from South Korea to the United States with the dream of sending my sister and me to an American college. For years, my only goal was to get into a great school. When I finally arrived at the University of Virginia, any illusions I had about education vanished. I received a great “education” at UVA, but I didn’t learn any of the skills that would help me thrive in the real world.

After UVA, I was lucky enough to attend VCU Brandcenter, a non-traditional masters program that focuses on teaching creativity, innovation, and design thinking. The whole way I looked at the world shifted, and I realized that these were the skills everyone in the world should be learning.

A little while later, I was providing aid on the ground in New Orleans in the months after Hurricane Katrina, and I met so many young, creative kids with huge potential. Instead of developing their passions, they were being shuffled into schools that squashed their creativity. That’s when my idea for Skillshare really solidified. I decided to make it my mission to provide universal access to learning.

How does the business model work?

Skillshare is an open learning platform powered by the world’s creators. Our mission is centered on providing access, so we’ve pushed to make our model as open as possible. Anyone can learn and anyone can teach. Students can access our free classes with a Free Membership, or they can upgrade to a Premium Membership for $10 a month for unlimited learning to all of our classes.

Do you see this as a new kind of education option for the 21st century professional? Do you think it could one day supplant the role played by graduate and continuing education programs?

Skillshare is all about reinventing education for the 21st century. We asked ourselves, if we started from scratch, what would the ideal learning community look like? The answer really centers on teaching the building blocks of creativity through collaboration and action. That’s why every one of our classes has a hands-on project so students can learn by doing. Collaboration is built in throughout the platform.

We believe that creativity is one of the most important skills today. It’s as fundamental as reading, writing, and arithmetic, because it empowers people in every area of their lives. It’s also a skill that’s largely ignored within traditional education systems. At Skillshare, we’re working to change that.

How has your role evolved since you founded the company?

In the beginning, I was doing literally everything. Today, I’m very focused on setting and communicating the company’s vision and building a highly functioning team. From hiring the right players to establishing shared values, camaraderie and a culture of learning, it’s all about making sure our team is working together to move the ball forward.

What’s the company’s long-term goal?

We’re on a mission to unlock the world’s creativity.