It's hard at first to see how Craftsy – a website mainly targeted at women who are 40 years of age and older and teaches them various crafting techniques – relates to the issue of online higher education, but according to Ki Mae Heussner at GigaOM.com, the way it delivers lessons could serve as a template for colleges that wish to begin offering online courses to their students.
Craftsy, which was founded in 2011, offers online lessons in all manner of handicrafts costing between $20 and $50 dollars per class. And not every lesson submitted meets founder and CEO John Levisay's tough standards. In addition to being informative, in order to make it onto the site, the videos must also be well-produced and the teachers need to be knowledgeable and deliver material in ways that are easy for users to understand.
"The platform we've built wants to capture the benefits of asynchronous consumption — the anytime, anywhere ability to view a class — but similarly harness the magic of a live classroom," he said. The company, which has raised about $20 million from investors including the Foundry Group and Tiger Global Management, spends more than $15,000 to create and film each class, including flying the best teachers it can find to its Denver studios. So far, it's put more than $5 million in technology to enhance the learning experience with user-friendly features, motion graphics and other effects.
The site employs several helpful tools to make online learning easier for a group not known to be particularly comfortable with technology. For example, going back and forth in the video is made easy by a feature that allows the user to skip about 30 seconds with one button click. The lessons also benefit from crowdsourcing by letting users ask questions that are linked to a particular spot in the video. The question and answer remain linked, allowing other users to benefit from the knowledge as well.
These are the kinds of things that could make any online courses easier for students, and especially non-traditional students, to get into. Although other online education provides also innovate – online lesson provider Skillshare boasts live office hours where students can interact with instructors in real time – Craftsy seems uniquely positions to reach a group of students who are typically reluctant to engage.
And, so far, Craftsy's approach seems to be paying off. In the past year, it's earned about $12 million in revenue, 80 percent of which is from its classes, with the remainder coming from an online store that sells fabric, yarn and other materials. And last year's revenue is up from $2 million in 2011. The company said it averages about one million unique visitors a month and had 750,000 class enrollments in 2012.