Skillshare is one of my favorite startups to emerge from the recent innovation boom in the education field. Simply put, Skillshare is a platform that allows anyone to teach a class or take a class. After taking a couple of fantastic Skillshare classes, I decided to develop my own, based upon my experience getting two iPhone apps into the App Store with no prior coding experience.
I’ve been teaching a local class in New York City, The Non-Programmer’s Guide to Getting an App in the App Store, for eight months now. Class growth and student sign ups were slow at times, but I’ve stuck with the class long enough to have a generated a lot of positive feedback.
It’s been an amazing and educational experience for me. If you teach a class, or plan on teaching a class, here are some tips to help you make the most out of your class.
Teach regardless of student sign ups
Even if you just have one student—not only is the Skillshare platform inflexible when it comes to moving single students to a different, classes with only one or two students can actually be great for both student and teacher. Students feel like they’re getting better information and more attention (because they are) and you can really delve into the core content of your class by focusing on your student’s individual areas of need.
One time I had just one student sign up for a session, since I accidentally scheduled a class for the weeknight before a national holiday. I first reached out to the student and asked if they were able to make it to another upcoming session, which didn’t work for his schedule. So I held the class anyway, opting to meet at a coffee shop that was convenient for both of us rather than renting the room I had originally booked. The class ended up being fantastic and I got a positive endorsement the next day.
Find a central location
I took an official class through Skillshare called “How to Teach a Skillshare Class” before developing a class of my own. One of the most valuable resources that I obtained was a Google spreadsheet filled with locations around Manhattan that offer classrooms, along with each spaces location, capacity, amenities, and price. After developing my class, I sent out emails to about 10 different venues who offered free classroom space to find available dates to teach. Three responded, and I booked a date with each of them.
I learned that venue location had a large impact on the attendance, especially in New York City. Everyone is willing to travel most places in Manhattan regardless of which borough they live in. However, getting someone to travel to DUMBO, Brooklyn, even though it’s one stop over the bridge, is almost impossible. I’ve eventually settled pretty permanently into teaching at Grind, which costs money for each class but is worth the price for the location.
This tip may be less important for smaller cities, where everyone has a car and there’s always ample parking. But make sure you take people’s schedules and commutes into account when finding a location, not just the cost or convenience for yourself.
Offer multiple class dates
I currently teach my class about twice a month. I’ll book these two dates the month prior, so I know far in advance when I’ll be teaching. I list these class dates immediately on Skillshare and on this blog, so people know the upcoming dates as soon as they’re available and have plenty of time to plan ahead. Every time you add a new class date, Skillshare also notifies everyone who is on your “watchlist.”
I try to keep two or three available dates for my class at any given time, choosing different weeknights to better accommodate people’s schedules, if possible. While this does lead to some student confusion from time to time (accidentally signing up for the wrong date or confusing my single-night class for a multiple-date course) I find that the overall sign up rate is higher than if I listed one date at a time.
Go with the class flow
Each class has a life of its own, and will have their own themes and important topics. In one of my classes, a majority of the app ideas were focused on location-based data. We ended up taking a long detour off my planned curriculum to discuss the definition, power, and usefulness of APIs such as those offered from Foursquare and the city of New York. We ended up having a great discussion that I believe was a great help to all the students in the class. Even those who may not be connecting to an API got a better understanding of how the development process works.
As a result of this successful conversation, I added a section on APIs to my next class. This time, I was met with mostly blank stares and very little student interaction. I learned that what worked for my previous class was definitely not something that would work for every class.
I have adjusted the class slightly since then, touching on APIs and their power, but I only go into detail if students have specific questions about this aspect of programming. It’s important to remain flexible and ready to slightly modify individual classes to fit each groups individual needs. But don’t completely rework your curriculum based on one classes discussion unless it’s directly related and adding value to your core lessons.
Turn class into a discussion
Most of the time, having a workshop-style class is more effective than a lecture (unless you’re attracting students to your class with your name as well as your content). You should think of your role as the facilitator of good conversation rather than the single point of knowledge.
Of course, it would be nearly impossible, and equally useless, to make the entire class discussion-based. The reason why you’re teaching a class in the first place is because you have a collection of knowledge and you found students who want that information. But try your best not to talk the entire time. If a student asks a question, see if there is a way to have another student provide the answer. If everyone is sharing work, get the group’s thoughts before giving your own.
Making the students think for themselves, before providing your experienced answers, helps information retention and will improve the community aspect and overall vibe of your class.
Build a brand
People sign up for your class and give you money because they’re interested in the topic that you’re teaching. Don’t let this genuine interest go to waste. Start a newsletter through Mailchimp and add each of your students to the list. During your class, mention that each of your students they’re now a part of your community of other people interested in X topic.
I’ve created a monthly newsletter, sharing related links as well as any new resources I’ve found or things I’ve learned from students. I started this newsletter months after first teaching my class, but added all my past students. I’ve since sent out three newsletters and have had a higher than average open rate, zero complaints, and zero unsubscribes.
When I was a salesman for Hugo Boss, my manager would often remind us not to assume the size of our client’s wallet. By this, he meant that we should never stop showing a client new items until she told us to stop. Just because she’s buying a $1,200 dress doesn’t automatically mean she doesn’t also want the $600 shoes.
Don’t assume the students who signed up for your class only want two hours of information related to the topic you’re teaching. Continue to add value to their lives and you may be surprised at how many say “thank you” instead of “stop.”
Use student feedback to promote your class
After you’ve taught your class a few times and gotten some positive student feedback (always tell your students to leave feedback!), modify your class description to display these class reviews prominently. Let satisfied students sell your class for you.
Keep in mind, many, if not most, students won’t read your full class description. You want to make it apparent that 1) your class will add value to their lives and 2) there are other satisfied students who have taken your class.
Go above and beyond
The final slide at the end of every class shows my name, personal email address, and Twitter handle. I also offer to review each student’s completed app wire frames before they start reaching out to freelance developers.
Originally, I was hesitant to offer such a time commitment to my students after the class had ended. But, as of yet, not a single student has actually taken me up on this offer, despite everyone’s surprise when I tell them this fact. I also offer to grab coffee and chat with students, and only two have reached out.
Results may vary based on your class topic and your notoriety within the community, but try to go above and beyond your students’ expectations however possible.