In a fascinating and thoughtful conversation, Mindstone's CEO, Joshua Wohle, sat down with Frank Visciano, former COO of Udemy, to discuss various topics ranging from industry beliefs to personal growth experiences. The insights that emerged were deeply insightful and delivered profound implications for both individuals and companies within the tech and consulting space.
Killing Ego Important For Growth
Frank started off by addressing a key question posed by Joshua: "What is one thing you believe to be true that most people in your industry would disagree with?" Frank gave a candid response, expressing that he feels most people in their industry have a hyperactive sense of confidence, bordering on ego. In contrast, his personal belief is that nobody really knows what they're doing - we're all stumbling around in the dark trying to figure things out as we go along.
Frank further emphasized that deluding oneself with a strong vision of the world's future can often lead to disappointment. Instead, he advocates for a foundation of admitted uncertainty and a focus on hypothesis-driven learning. This approach promotes risk identification and mitigation over blindly charging forward.
However, this doesn't discount the value of people with deep, rich backgrounds and successful track records. Frank clarified that successful people can either be causal factors or ride along with success. The key is to focus on learning from experiences and using them to inform future decisions and actions. Those who concentrate on the learning process may achieve multiple successes.
The Udemy Journey
Turning the conversation to personal experiences, Joshua asked Frank about his best learning experiences. Frank's reflections highlighted his evolution in understanding the process of learning. In his early years, learning was competitive and destination-oriented. But his time at Udemy shifted his perspective, transforming learning from a competitive endeavor to a communal and continuous one.
While working to turn experts into Udemy instructors, he realized the importance of community support and continuous learning. This realization occurred at a time when he was constantly navigating uncharted territories in his career, moving from one challenging role to another. Frank's understanding of learning transformed into a loop where teaching is the final stage, and the journey became more important than the destination.
Reflecting on Udemy's successes, Frank identified two main pillars that contributed to the platform's rapid growth. First was Udemy's "We don't know best" attitude, which encouraged a learner-centric approach, connecting students with experts while minimizing platform interference. Second, the platform’s flexible structure allowed it to cater to a wide range of disciplines, from coding to music to business communication.
This horizontal approach enabled Udemy to focus on shared learning experiences across diverse disciplines, which contributed significantly to their scalability. Moreover, Udemy's strategy of teaching experts (who weren’t necessarily professional teachers) how to teach on the platform effectively, enriched the learning experience and boosted user engagement.
On the flip side, Frank acknowledged that Udemy's strong focus on horizontal scalability might have resulted in lesser emphasis on driving individual course engagement and learning outcomes. As the EdTech landscape evolved, the emphasis on engagement and outcomes became more prominent, prompting platforms to adjust their strategies accordingly.
The Future Of Education Is Hybrid
In discussing the link between engagement and learning outcomes, Frank makes an interesting point about the different "flavors" of engagement. This recognizes the fact that learning isn't a monolithic experience - it varies greatly based on the stakes, frequency, and motivation involved. High-stakes, low-frequency learning differs significantly from low-stakes, high-frequency learning, and the types of engagement required in each scenario will naturally differ.
Frank suggests that engagement is a necessary prerequisite for achieving learning outcomes, regardless of the nature of the learning experience. He explains that the type of engagement required to achieve a certain learning objective is largely dependent on the learner’s intentions and motivations. For instance, mandatory training required by an employer may require a different level of engagement than a course taken out of personal interest.
Discussing the future of learning, Frank acknowledges the role of both individual engagement and social learning. He contends that the future of education will be hybrid, integrating both individual and social aspects of learning. The idea of a "hybrid recipe" resonates strongly here. Learning experiences in the future, according to Frank, will blend synchronous and asynchronous activities, hard and soft skills, offline and online resources.
Frank introduces an interesting framework that conceptualizes learning moments based on stakes and frequency. High-stakes, low-frequency moments, such as attending university, can have life-altering impacts and are often taken very seriously. Low-stakes, high-frequency moments, like taking a course to learn a specific skill for a project, are also crucial, but in a different way. Understanding where a learner is on this spectrum, Frank argues, can significantly influence the design of learning experiences.
Joshua’s interview with Frank offered a valuable window into the ever-evolving EdTech industry. As platforms strive to balance scalability with engagement, there's no denying that technological advancements and pedagogical insights will play a crucial role in shaping the future of online learning. Frank's optimism about this challenge, coupled with his dedication to refining and innovating education, points towards an exciting future for the EdTech space.
In a fast-paced, ever-changing industry like EdTech, Frank's insights are invaluable. His emphasis on engagement, hybrid learning, and a thoughtful understanding of the learner's objectives all point towards a more flexible and inclusive future for education. He suggests that education providers will need to continually adapt and innovate to meet the varied needs of learners in an increasingly complex landscape.