Skillshare Review 2019. How Good Is Skillshare.com?

Skillshare Review 2019. How Good Is Skillshare.com?

This post was most recently updated on June 6th, 2019

Before I present you with my 2019 review of Skillshare, let me take a quick step back and explain why I’m qualified to write this review… 🙂

PS, a video version is at the end, 
if you prefer to watch not read! 🙂

I’ve been on Skillshare since January 2016, which is a long time in Internet terms. Back then they only had 2,000 classes. Now they have 29,000!

Welcome To Skillshare, 2016!
Welcome To Skillshare, 2016!

I’ve seen Skillshare change hugely. There’s a lot to like about it, and there’s a lot of room for improvement, which we’ll get to.

Here are my credentials for writing a review…

1: I’ve been teaching on Skillshare for over 3 years. I’ve earned well into 5-figures, have 15,000+ students and over 1,400 reviews on the platform.

My Skillshare Teacher Stats
My Skillshare Teacher Stats

2: I run two of the most popular Skillshare-dedicated Facebook Groups, both of which were started several years ago. One group is for coupons, and the other for discussion.

Skillshare Facebook Groups
My Skillshare Facebook Groups

3: I’ve answered Skillshare-related questions at their website, in my blog’s Skillshare FAQ, in my Fb discussion group, on Quora, Reddit, YouTube and probably other places too! 🙂

4: I started teaching online in 1997, when I registered my first domain name, and have been teaching online ever since.

This review builds upon one I created in January 2018, and the changes I reviewed in 2017.

In this detailed Skillshare review, I want to start with a broad outline of how well I think Skillshare are doing overall, then look in more detail from a student and teacher perspective.

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Overall Skillshare 2019 Review

This is basically the “TL;DR” version of the review. 🙂 Skillshare in 2019 seem to be making steady progress, although there are still some worrying aspects about the platform which I’ll be addressing below.

Broadly speaking, Skillshare seemed to “steady the ship” in 2018. They raised a further $28 million in funding, which will help them reach profitability, assuming they haven’t reached it yet. At the time of the announcement, Matt Cooper, CEO, said, “Over the last twelve months we’ve experienced greater than 100% revenue growth“, which is also a positive sign and correlates with the increase in members to 7 million, classes to 27,000 and a website traffic rank of 3,000th most popular website compared to 5,000th a year ago (source: Alexa)

Skillshare Funding
Skillshare Funding

Skillshare have also been saving money by reducing the incentives paid to new teachers and making them harder to achieve. I assume reducing their outgoings was an attempt to decrease their burn rate, which was probably very high when they were paying out up to $200 to each new teacher! Now they only offer to “match” the earnings of a new teacher in the first month, up to $100, and even that offer comes with other conditions, such as getting a premium referral and a certain number of premium students or premium minutes. It’s unclear whether new teachers get a free year of premium as a reward still, which always used to be the case

Another mechanism introduced which probably saves money is restricting teachers to only uploading one class per week. Skillshare could’ve chosen to hire more reviewers, but they decided to place a cap on uploads instead.

Skillshare also seem to further save money by running a low-employee overhead model, with customer support taking a while to reply and very little interaction between staff and students or teachers. Almost everything Skillshare does seems to be on a “transmit” mode, from posts at their Facebook Page, to pinned posts in their “Groups” and blog posts with zero interaction. There’s hardly any day-to-day interaction with students or teachers.

Skillshare retained the policy of paying teachers at least 30% of the revenue pool each month, and that seems to have resulted in teachers getting slightly more money per premium minute than for the same month in 2018. In itself this is interesting. Does it mean that there are more premium members, but they’re watching less minutes? Perhaps it means there’s a core of multi-year premium members who are still paying but hardly watching any classes.

skillshare-eppm-chart-march-2019
Skillshare: Value of a Premium Minute 2017-present

Skillshare 2019 Review: For Students

I think Skillshare is a great place for students in 2019, even better than in 2018. Let’s look at why…

The price has remained the same, just $15 per month, or $99 per year (only $8.25 per month, equivalent), while the number of classes has jumped from 18,000 in 2018 to 27,000 in 2019!

Skillshare Premium Pricing 2019
Skillshare Premium Pricing 2019

You don’t need to leap into a premium membership. You can get a “100% free account“, which lets you take the 1,000+ free classes at Skillshare and redeem any coupons you get for premium classes, or you can take a 2-month premium trial to see whether or not Skillshare is for you.

The core Skillshare concept of learning a skill from an individual class, with the option of demonstrating it by completing the class project, is still an excellent one.

You can drop in and out of classes when you like and easily find teachers you resonate with and enjoy everything they have on the platform. With 27,000 classes, it’d be hard to get bored! 🙂

But everything isn’t perfect. Some problems for students are

Support

Support at Skillshare can be slow to respond. I see complaints about this in my Facebook discussion group fairly often. While there is a “help” section to the website, sometimes you just need a question answered, and support could definitely be quicker. Also, there’s no way to check your tickets online, they’re only answered by email, so be sure to white-list Skillshare’s email addresses so that you don’t miss any.

Search Results

Skillshare changed their search algorithm in 2018. Most search engines will return fewer results when you increase the number of keywords in your search. So, if you’re looking for a “red sweater”, you’ll get lots of results, but if you search for, “red sweater, elephant pattern”, you’ll only get a few.

At Skillshare, you’ll get more results for the longer search phrase because Skillshare uses an “Or” operator instead of “And”, meaning you’ll get results containing “red” OR “sweater” OR “elephant” OR “pattern”. It’s a strange system.

I can only imagine Skillshare want to give maximum exposure to their top-rated classes and have them appear in as many search results as possible, even at the expense of accuracy.

Further evidence for this comes from the fact that they also use truncation of keywords (“Amazon” matches “Amazing”) and substitution of letters (“German” matches “Gorman”) to provide even more results!

Irrelevant search results cannot be a good user experience.

"German" matches "Gorman" in the teacher's name.
“German” matches “Gorman” in the teacher’s name.

Social Features

There’s no user-to-user communication on Skillshare. A student can’t contact a teacher with a direct question, only post to a class discussion board and hope the teacher replies.

Skillshare had a “Groups” section on their mobile app where students and teachers could communicate. The “Groups” feature was then moved from the mobile app to the website, but I’ve heard that it’s closing at the end of March 2019. I don’t know if anything is being planned to replace it. The lack of “social” features on Skillshare is quite surprising.

Update: The Groups area of the website didn’t close at the end of March 2019, but it looks like it’s now unsupported.

Low-Quality Classes

Some of the classes on Skillshare are of fairly low quality. Skillshare do seem to have stepped up their monitoring of classes, so I think this is less of an issue than in the past.

While the changes they’ve made to the trending algorithm and search algorithm mean that more popular classes are shown more often, it does seem that Skillshare needs its classes to be of higher quality than YouTube videos if it’s going to charge for them.

Unhappy Teachers

Some teachers are getting discouraged by the changes at Skillshare, which they think have made it harder to compete with established teachers. This is actually a problem for students because it means they’re missing out on the option of taking new classes by teachers who’ve abandon Skillshare. Also, existing classes on the platform by those teachers won’t get any replies or feedback.

Good teachers who would put quality content on Skillshare, interact with students and build a following are finding it too hard to compete with the “Skillshare Originals” (filmed by Skillshare with an expert on a particular topic and heavily promoted by Skillshare ) and are leaving.

That leaves two groups, Skillshare Originals, and low-quality classes thrown onto Skillshare by mediocre teachers who aren’t particularly interested in engaging with students or building a following. If Skillshare purge the low-quality classes over time, as they should, what’s left?

Too Much Choice

Skillshare as a platform suffers from the same problem as many “all you can eat” providers. There’s often too much choice, and a lack of an obvious progression path.

You know what skill you want to learn, so you take a class on the topic, but then what?

When Skillshare rolled out their new review system they let students say whether the class is “beginner”, “intermediate” or “advanced”. Interestingly, the teacher decides that when they create the class, but, based on student feedback, Skillshare can over-ride the teacher’s choice.

I think the idea is that, eventually, there will be three tiers of classes for students, so they can easily progress after taking the beginners class to an intermediate and then advanced class.

Other than the three-tier indicator, it’s quite hard to decide which class to take to best progress your new skills.

In the past, there were “workshops” where teachers would list several of their own classes relating to a particular skill, and help guide students through them over a period of weeks.

Workshops were a good idea, but they weren’t really developed or promoted much by Skillshare. Recently the concept was re-worked and now all workshops are created by Skillshare staff, and often feature Skillshare Originals.

I think workshops should be rolled out to all teachers and moderated by Skillshare. Students will then have an obvious progression pathway to learn new skills and build on them.

Skillshare 2019 Review: For Teachers

On the surface, Skillshare hasn’t changed much for established teachers in the last year. The “Earnings Per Premium Minute” has remained quite consistent, and it’s still free to teach on Skillshare. However, there’s a growing disquiet amongst teachers as they see that it’s getting harder to build a following on the platform along with the growing dominance of Skillshare’s own classes, the “Originals”.

Let’s see what’s changed under the surface…

“New Classes” Filter Removed

In the past there was the option to sort category classes by, “Popular, Trending or New“. Recently the option to see “new” classes was removed, which also removed that potential source of exposure for new classes.

Trending Algorithm Changed

While the change went unannounced and undocumented, it seems that the trending algorithm was changed. In the past, a class got a trending score calculated every 24 hours based on new students, positive reviews and projects submitted. At some point we think that the calculation for a class’ trending score was changed to being averaged over a week or two instead of 24 hours.

This was a huge change because “trending” was the primary mechanism for new classes to be discovered by the existing body of students on Skillshare.

Changing the calculation to an average of a week or two penalised new teachers who would often announce their new classes to their followers and hope for an influx of new students, reviews and projects which could catapult their class onto a category trending page, at least for a day or two.

Now, with a longer averaging period, that new class will probably not get onto the category trending page, especially as dominant classes from the search results, such as the “Skillshare Originals”, will collect ongoing new students, projects and reviews which can keep them on the trending pages indefinitely.

By way of example, I just checked the top 30 trending classes on Skillshare. Half of them have over 1,000 students. Is that right for a mechanism which shows “trending” classes?

Top 30 Trending Classes At Skillshare
Top 30 Trending Classes At Skillshare

Search Results Broadened

Skillshare search now returns broader results due to the tweaks they made to their algorithm, such as using “Or” instead of “And”, including keyword truncation and substitutions.

As a result, the “dominant” classes, such as “Skillshare Originals” appear for many different keyword searches, even at the expense of search result accuracy. Not only does this squeeze out other classes, it creates a stream of new students, reviews and projects for the dominant classes which then feeds back into the “trending” pages, described above.

Restrictions On “Free” Students

In the past, new teachers could gain traction on Skillshare by marketing off-site to compensate for not having a following on-site. By using “free access links“, new teachers could get more students, reviews and projects. However, Skillshare has started restricting what free students can do.

Free Versus Premium Students
Free Versus Premium Students

Free students can only leave reviews for free classes, not premium classes, even if they have a free access link.

It’s odd, but if you try to leave a review for a premium class you have a free coupon for, you can access the review page and click all the buttons for how good or bad the class was, but when you click “review”, nothing happens. Literally, nothing.

This change makes it much harder for new teachers to get started building a following on Skillshare.

One Class Per Week

I’m not sure exactly when this happened, but it was probably in 2018. Instead of accepting as many classes as a teacher could upload, Skillshare restricted teachers to one per week. It was never explained why, as far as I know.

I would expect there to be a lifting of the restriction for top-teachers, but if that’s true, I haven’t heard about it. It seems odd to restrict good teachers, who may have 50 great classes on another platform ready to put on Skillshare to one per week, which would take almost a year to upload fully.

Skillshare 2019 Review: Summary

Without knowing Skillshare’s financial data, I don’t know how secure the company is. Hopefully the financial changes they’ve made are to ensure the future of the company, long term.

However, I’m concerned that the changes which promote the “Skillshare Originals” and “Staff Picks” in their newsletters, in the search results and on the trending pages will frustrate good teachers, who’ll end up leaving. In fact, I’ve already seen evidence of this.

Skillshare could easily end up with two sets of classes, a small set of their Originals and hand-picked favourites, and the rest by teachers who just slap up classes with no consideration of engaging with students or the health of the platform.

For now, I’d consider Skillshare to be good for students but only average for new teachers.

Hopefully Skillshare can find a way to reward good teachers with more exposure on the platform. It would be a win for the teachers, a win for the students and a win for Skillshare.

Your Thoughts?

Please comment below… 🙂

Update

I mentioned this article to my Skillshare Mastermind Facebook Group, and Alexandra said that the “Skillshare Originals” were important for Skillshare for two reasons…

1: They are created by Skillshare, so are of good technical quality and they are often done with “industry experts or influencers” whom the Skillshare paying members are likely to want to hear from. The on-going generation of such classes may be needed, in the minds of premium members, to justify the membership fee.

2: The interviewee would likely have a large following on social media and it’s probably part of the class creation agreement with Skillshare that the person promotes their Skillshare class. The promotion would be likely to generate a significant number of new members for Skillshare which is good for the company, and for regular teachers who are more likely to get new students.

I agree with this point. I just wonder whether Skillshare may be over-promoting their Originals at the expense of regular teachers’ classes, and what the long-term repercussions may be.

Skillshare just won a Webby for their “Originals”. Presumably, that’s quite valuable in terms of promotion and new members it may generate and goes some way to validate their creation and promotion.

Skillshare Wins A Webby For Their Skillshare Originals
Skillshare Wins A Webby For Their Skillshare Originals

Video Version of the 2019 Skillshare Review:

Helpful links:

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