Forget credentials & credit hours: Learn anything from anybody

A new online business, called SkillShare, wants us get over the idea that a college education is the only legitimate path to a career. What’s the point of going to college and taking on mass quantities of debt, only to graduate to a job that requires the skills and knowledge you had when you finished high school, ask SkillShare’s founders. And who decided that you can only learn in a traditional classroom from professors with Ph.D.’s, tenure and a bunch of obscure, published papers?

SkillShare’s aim is to democratize education—allowing anyone who wants to learn something to learn it from anyone who wants to teach it. No transcripts, SATs, teaching credentials or ivy-covered buildings necessary.

SkillShare describes its core principles this way:

We believe that people care more about real-world skills than antiquated accreditation systems. Our communities are filled with these people who are great at what they do, whether it’s delivering a fantastic speech at a conference or baking a triple layer chocolate cake. Our vision is to unlock this knowledge and allow people to share their skills with those who want to learn them.

  1. Everyone is a teacher, and everyone has valuable knowledge to share.
  2. Learning should not stop when you graduate from school.
  3. Learning should happen in communities around shared interests and passions.
  4. Everyone has a lifelong right to enjoy learning new things.
  5. Learning should be fun and interesting!

So, exactly what does SkillShare do? It matches up people who know something—say, how to make a Chinese dumpling, or draw on an iPad, or take great food photos—with people who want to learn that skill. The teacher suggests a course, posts it on SkillShare, and sells a limited number of tickets to the class, whose price he/she sets. Many classes charge under $20 per ticket, but some are considerably higher. Teachers pay no fee to list their classes, but they are responsible for arranging and paying for a venue, such as a coffee shop, community center or bookstore. Skillshare makes money by taking a portion of each ticket sale.

One course that you might sign up for in May 2011 is called “Lady Luck: Poker 101 for Women.” A ticket to the class costs $15. Its teacher is Michael Karnjanaprakorn, who happens to be one of the founders of Skillshare. He also happens to be a semi-professional poker player with 15 years of experience and is the founder of  World Series of Good, which encourages poker players to donate a percentage of their winnings to charity. His class description makes it sound like a pretty good bet, if you’re a woman who feels the need to out-poker a bunch of men:

Ever want to sit at the poker table but don’t really understand how the game is played? Come learn from two semi-professional poker players on how to play the game and put anyone in their poker place. Many people assume that poker is a “men’s game” but that’s not true. Join us as we host a class geared specifically for women. This class is geared towards the beginner poker player, and features an integrated curriculum which includes a live lecture, Q&A and interactive gameplay. In this class, we will go over the following:

  • Texas Hold ‘Em Gameplay
  • Rules & Etiquette
  • Poker Lingo
  • Hand Values
  • Basic Poker Strategies
  • Handling Overly Aggressive Opponents
  • Chip Tricks
  • Secrets Behind Winning Professional Players

Other courses offered at this writing include: “5 and Under: Restaurant-caliber food with less than 5 ingredients,” taught by a New York City chef;  “Spy School – The Seeing Lab.” where, for $40 you can “learn how to notice and read facial micro-expressions;” and “Visual Means 101: Strategies for Beginning Photographers.”

The project currently operates only in New York City, where Skillshare has amassed a “venue database” that helps teachers find workable, affordable locations for their classes. Next up: San Francisco. In the meantime, Skillshare encourages community teachers in other areas to start thinking about classes they might want to lead and even to propose them as listings for Skillshare.

An idea worth watching. What’s in your skill set?