PSFK, in partnership with HP Matter, speaks to Mike Karnjanaprakorn, CEO and co-founder of Skillshare, to understand the impact of digital on the way people learn
Innovation is the new currency in today’s Idea Economy. In recognition of the leaders who are disrupting our tech-driven world, the editors at thought leadership site PSFK.com partnered with HP Matter to create the Innovators Index, a roster of digital pioneers making a global impact.This week we’ve featured Mike Karnjanaprakorn for delivering affordable education to the creative community.
With the cost of a diploma reaching all-time highs, students are considering alternatives to a traditional college education. At the same time, in a job market defined by flux, employees of all ages are seeking avenues for acquiring the necessary skills to remain relevant in their current roles or switch careers entirely. A host of new cost-effective models are leveraging digital classrooms and content, alongside community expertise, to better meet the needs of today’s learners.
One of the companies defining this new wave of education is Skillshare, a platform for creators to share their talents, learn from like-minds and get feedback from fellow students for a low subscription fee. As part of our series of interviews for the Innovators Index, we spoke to Mike Karnjanaprakorn, the company’s CEO and co-founder to learn about the state of educational reform and the progression that skill-based learning will take in the future.
PSFK: Please tell us a little about Skillshare.
Mike Karnjanaprakorn: Skillshare is a website where you can take online classes from teachers from all around the world. We offer almost 1,500 classes all based on some type of creative skill, whether it’s design, photography, or starting a business. At a marginal $10 a month, users get unlimited access to any and all classes.
PSFK: What inspired you to start the company and what keeps you motivated?
MK: I wanted to create something that was mission-driven as a shoutout to my year living and volunteering in New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina, but I also wanted to pool other people who were really ambitious in their careers. Fast‑forward to today, the company that we created is mission-driven and centered on providing access to high-quality learning, primarily targeted at creative communities.
With that said, we also track other extremely talented and motivated people that work at bigger companies, who aren’t necessarily in it for charity so much as they are for growth. In that sense, we follow what I like to call a ‘for‑profit for good’; and the intersection of those two things is what really motivates me at the end of the day.
PSFK: Walk us through your creative process. Where or how do you seek out inspiration?
MK: From an individual’s perspective I would say that creativity can occupy any nook or cranny; it can be found in art, music, cooking— there’s no limit really. From a professional standpoint, however, creativity is engaged in route-taking and innovating—chiefly, the way problems are addressed and solved.
Finding inspiration is largely dependent on creativity as well, it can be derived from virtually anything. On a personal level, however, I’d say that most of my creativity comes from exchanges with people— their mistakes or successes, their experiences, what they might have learned from another person. I like to take all those different perspectives and connect the dots with my own.
I wouldn’t say that my approach to the creative process is ‘rigorous’ per se, though there are definitely ritualistic elements involved. I don’t buy into the process being organic at all, I think that creativity takes a lot of hard work. It’s no different than a professional athlete practicing multiple times a day, aiming to constantly improve him or herself in the grand scheme of things.
PSFK: What does the term “disruption” mean to you and how does it shape your own approach?
MK: To give a broader answer, it’s really just the layering of a certain technology or methods of thought that serves to redefine the piece altogether. The Internet, the industrial revolution, these are some examples of great disruptors to the foundations that preceded them. Disruption reduces the middleman. It’s completely decentralized, completely open and democratic.
PSFK: How does it shape your own approach at Skillshare?
MK: At Skillshare, we’ve never viewed ourselves as an education company. We’re far removed from an institution that has degrees and we therefore don’t feel the need for students to follow a linear path or to graduate from this experience.
We’ve always viewed ourselves as an Internet company first and foremost, and that entails having content with which to build and expand upon in a different way than standardized education does. We like to take into account fragmented materials like meritocracy and the Internet of Things first, and then begin the process of seeing how the pieces fit into a whole. In seeing how learning fits into the model, rather than seeing how the model fits into learning, we’ve essentially rethought the way education fits into the world and proposed an online model for it.
PSFK: What are the key forces and factors that are driving innovation in the education industry today?
MK: One of the big forces or trends I’ve seen happening is the younger generation beginning to question the path that they’re supposed to go down. Of course, that’s something that always happens at one point or another, but this time it’s on a larger scale.
There’s a whole push around the culture that we call screening. Traditional institutions are beginning to lose tons of money. The University of Phoenix, for example, had one of their worse years last year.
These forces are allowing entrepreneurs or social entrepreneurs or nonprofits or anyone who wants to create something different to fill in that gap, and that’s certainly happening. While I don’t think any single company will be the one‑stop solution, all of them will attack and tackle the gap from many different viewpoints and approaches. If you’re going to go to Skillshare or Coursera or Khan Academy or CodeAcademy, you won’t find the same outfitted method of doing things.
Outside of education, what you’re starting to see on the Internet is that all industries kind of follow a very similar model, where sites like Uber with transportation or Facebook with social networks usually emerge as the leaders. There’s a definitive brand name—or a select few brands—within each industry that represent what that industry is altogether. I think it’s still too early determine who that is in virtual universities though.
Within the digital content space, you’re also going to start seeing a trend toward accessibility. I don’t know that in five years from now we’ll still be paying hundreds of dollars for an online class when it’ll essentially just be a digital file. We’ve seen it happen in entertainment, we’ve seen it happen in publishing, in music, and we’re going to see it happen in education.
PSFK: What’s one industry that you feel is in the need of the most radical change?
MK: 100 percent, the music industry. It’s one of the industries that has a very closed centralized model and massive friction to boot. It’s not fair to the artists, it’s not fair to the consumers. It should lose the power mania that comes with being controlled by a select few companies. It would be cool to see an open platform emerge that acted like a record label that allows anyone to create music with incentive for the best musicians to rise to the top and be paid with FAIR royalties somewhat like the Etsy model.
PSFK: What’s one piece of advice you’d give to a person or a company looking to reinvent themselves?
MK: Learn as much as you can about what you’re looking to evolve or lead. There were a couple of points in my career where I skipped that step and consequently paid the price.
Take three steps back and always start off by learning as much as you can. Talk to as many people as you can, lead as much as you can, understand the past, present and future of the industry and product you’re looking to make or innovate, and synthesize multiple points of views into a coherent piece that appeals to most, if not all.
Spending as much time learning as much as possible is an extremely humbling experience that prepares you far better for the risk-taking you can and should take.
Innovation is the new currency in today’s Idea Economy. In recognition of the leaders who are disrupting our tech-driven world, the editors at thought leadership site PSFK.com partnered with HP Matter to create the Innovators Index, a roster of digital pioneers making a global impact. Each week, we’ll share POVs from these experts on their work and process, sharing insights on reinvention and how to embrace change.