Online learning site Udemy nabs $12M to expand to new platforms, targeted content

Just last week, we wrote about how a decent percentage of instructors on online learning marketplace Udemy are earning a nice chunk of change selling courses on the site. Well, it seems the site itself is making out pretty well, too

As the user base has grown to 500,000 students around the world, revenue has climbed 400 percent. And, on Friday, the company plans to announce that it had raised $12 million in Series B financing. The round was led by Insight Venture Partners and included investors Lightbank, MHS Capital and Learn Capital. It brings Udemy’s total amount raised to $16 million.

Dennis Yang, the company’s newly-appointed COO and president. said the new funding will enable the company to expand its mobile options (it currently has an iPad app but will soon follow with apps for iOS, Android, Kindle and Windows 8) and build out its content into deeper niche subject areas.

The San Francisco startup competes with plenty of other online learning sites, from free platforms like Coursera, Udacity and Codecademy to paid sites like Lynda and Treehouse. But, while all of those sites similarly give students access to online courses, Udemy is unique in that it lets anyone become an instructor by creating and offering free and paid video-based classes on a range of subjects its site. Udemy offers more than 5,000 courses on a range of subjects, from computer programming and entrepreneurship to literature and fitness. Its instructors include individual experts and best-selling authors, as well as university professors and institutional and business leaders.

Since its launch in 2010, however, other startups, including Skillshare and CourseHero have created their own online marketplaces of courses created by self-appointed experts. As competition mounts, Yang said, Udemy’s challenge is to offer a course creation process that’s as seamless as possible and provide students with a learning experience that’s as engaging as possible. For example, right now, the site only enables students to communicate with professors and peers via Quora-like message boards, but he said they’re putting a lot research and development behind potentially improving on-site social interactions.

On sites like Udacity and Coursera, a significant amount of revenue is expected to come from certificates and other kinds of credentials. And while Yang said he wouldn’t be surprised to see something similar on Udemy, he explained that accreditation would be the responsibility of content creators, not the platform itself.

He also said that just like those and other online learning sites see an opportunity in using student data to help employers find potential job candidates, Udemy similarly plans to put its data to work. If it offered a career-mapping service, it would be through partners, he said, but other data-driven initiatives are on the horizon.

“There’s a great data play underlying our business. We capture a lot of information,” Yang said, adding that, in the future, they plan to share more data and analytics with instructors.