On online learning site Udemy, quarter of approved teachers earn $10k or more

Earlier this summer, online learning startup Udemy said the top earning instructors in its marketplace were making six-figure earnings. But, apparently, it turns out that a fair number of their peers aren’t doing so badly either.

The San Francisco-based startup told GigaOM that a quarter of its approved instructors will close out the year with at least $10,000 in income from courses purchased on its site. The company declined to share the total number of instructors offering classes on Udemy but said the figure has climbed 300 percent in the last year. About 60 percent of all instructors on the site are “approved,” meaning their courses meet a checklist of standards and can be searchable by students online. The site has attracted about 400,000 registered students, which is about a 520 percent increase from last year.

“[Teaching] doesn’t just have to be a service that is hourly work,” said Dinesh Thirupuvanam, VP of marketing for Udemy. “It can have more scale and that can reach more people.”

On Udemy, anyone can create a video-based course on a range of topics – from web design and entrepreneurship to yoga and photography. Instructors can choose to offer them for free, but the average price for a course is $19 to $199. Many of the top classes draw about 500 students, with some reaching students in the low thousands. For each class, Udemy takes 30 percent of the earnings.

Thirupuvanam said dozens of instructors in all kinds of disciplines are making upwards of $10,000 but the highest earners tend to teach more technical topics (Microsoft Excel and Python, for example) or business and entrepreneurship. The most popular instructors, he continued, are especially passionate and knowledgeable about their material. And they put in about 30 to 40 hours or more to prepare the curriculum, produce high-quality video and interact with students via message boards. Instructor Victor Bastos, for example, has earned $325,000 over the past 12 months from his class on web development. But even a class on the “art of black and white photography,” taught by photographer David Nightingale, has made $31,000 in just four months.

Still, success Depends on several factors, including demand for topic, the experience of the teacher, student reviews and, importantly, the instructor’s own marketing efforts. Udemy’s algorithms will flag classes that are gaining traction on the site and then the startup will promote them to students via email and better placement in the marketplace. But it’s on the instructors to take early steps to get the first few students and reviews.

Earlier this week, New York based peer-to-peer learning marketplace Skillshare similarly reported impressive earnings for instructors of its online classes. Both platforms offer online video-based classes on professional and creative skills, but Skillshare also includes offline classes and even its online classes offer students live interactions with instructors and peers. And on Thursday, CourseHero, a startup offering different online education tools from flashcards to study guides to courses, also launched a marketplace enabling subject matter experts to make money from their knowledge.

As online education grows, it’s encouraging to see not just platforms like Udacity and Coursera that let professors and educational institutions reach millions more online, but learning marketplaces that allow all kinds of people with expertise to earn compensation for teaching. And the growing success of sites like Udemy and Skillshare point to a future of more open education and opportunities for lifelong learning.

Udemy, which was launched in 2010, has raised about $4 million from 500 startups, Lightbank and MHS Capital, as well as individual investors like Yelp cofounder Jeremy Stoppelman and Square COO Keith Rabois.