eLearning Platform Skillshare Commits to Inclusivity

By: Danielle Chazen
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Skillshare, an online learning community for creativity, has more than 12 million registered members and over 30,000 video-based classes in creative disciplines such as graphic design and photography. The mission of Skillshare is to support professional and personal growth through creativity. Now, its leaders are focused on ensuring that all of their learners are offered a fully inclusive and accessible environment in which to study. The platform is attracting new students, including international learners, as a result.

“Our main focus this year is around making sure that the learning experience is accessible to everybody,” said Susan Threadgill, Product Lead, Skillshare. “We really wanted to ensure that all of our content had captions. So if you’re hard of hearing or deaf, or if English is your second language, or maybe you just learn better by reading along versus listening, you’re able to use captions and transcripts.”

Threadgill said that while legally accessibility measures can be a grey area at times, she has a pretty hard stance on how critical it is to make video content accessible.

Making Online Learning Accessible & Engaging

“Online learning and remote education is going to be much more visually heavy, but that doesn’t always work for everybody’s learning styles. Morally, there’s no gray area there. You have a responsibility as any type of company that’s providing learning content online or any type of video content at all to your users. Accessibility is so important,” she said.

At the beginning of 2020, a small percentage of Skillshare’s content had captions, which limited the amount of classes certain individuals could take, she said. Skillshare’s team wanted to place accessibility at the forefront of its initatives and culture and ensure its platform was built to encourage the success of individuals who learn in different ways.

“We have 25,000+ classes. We’re continuously adding more all the time,” she said. “We learned really early on that adding transcripts is a really big value add to increase engagement and overall user satisfaction. So it just seem like a win-win no-brainer there when we learned that.”

Meeting International Student Needs

Additionally, the company is focusing more on internationalization, with almost half of its students being based outside of the US. Skillshare leaders decided to expand on their partnership with Verbit to then quickly caption more materials and provide a written source to be used to generate translations from to help non-native English speakers.

“We have a global audience,” Threadgill said. “With everything captioned, we can now offer translations of that content as well. We don’t really have a lot of courses today that are taught in a language other than English, so now that’s kind of opened up the door.”

Providing captions and an interactive transcript widget for every class is improving the student experience and adoption of the Skillshare platform, as well as offering additional tools that help these international learners.

“We were able to build pop-over videos so you could read the transcriptions and watch our content at the same time. It just works really well,” Threadgill said.

Automating the process

The partnership with Verbit is helping Skillshare meet compliance when requests are made, but is also providing its leadership with an efficient way to fulfill and approach inclusivity as a moral obligation to users.

Skillshare is using an automated process built on Verbit’s automatic speech recognition technology to caption and transcribe a large amount of content quickly and efficiently. Verbit built out an operations process to help Skillshare scale with a clear timeline for transcription to meet its SLA. The hallmark of the whole experience was the visual experience provided to users when Verbit customized a pre-built widget to meet Skillshare’s needs and incorporated it into its site, Threadgill said.

Excitement from teachers

Skillshare’s teachers are excited to unlock these capabilities for their students and said they’re expecting the captions and transcripts provided by Verbit to lead to more video and class completions long term.

“We meet pretty regularly with our teacher community. So in September I did a demo of what was coming up with the actual transcriptions, and the teachers are really excited to be able to offer this to their students,” she said. “The teachers were really excited about it, which is like a really clear indicator that we were heading in the right direction.”

Threadgill also noted that with everybody being remote now; it’s a huge adjustment for both teachers and students, and more are turning to eLearning tools.

Accounting for remote learning concerns

Being an online learning platform, Threadgill said leaders at Skillshare were already well positioned to understand the differences and the challenges that come with not being in the same room with each other prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. This understanding has allowed Skillshare to take a holistic focus on finding ways to provide the best educational experience possible for its community during these times and after them.

“You look at students now who are going back to school and how much they’re struggling with the change in being online and remote all the time. And teachers not really having the tooling necessary or the training necessary to also adjust their teaching style to make sure they’re engaging students to write way. School’s not adjusting…Zoom fatigue is really much a big thing… so how can we unlock different areas to kind of make sure people stay engaged? They don’t feel fatigue, they don’t feel overwhelmed.

Threadgill said she what she hopes greater accessibility measures will increase online engagement and class completion long-term.

“[Verbit] really unlocked this new learning area for our students so that we can just be a more inclusive and accessible platform… We just need to be thinking about accessibility at all times and being honest with ourselves that people learn in different ways. And you need to make sure that your platform is set up so that anyone can be successful.”

We’re proud of the incredible work Skillshare continues to do to ensure its students are provided with equal opportunities to thrive academically. Its not only doing good for the Skillshare community, but doing well as a business now and attracting more prospective students.