I love learning new things. Especially now, as the COVID-19 pandemic drags on, I find it so energizing to learn new skills, pursue creative outlets, and use online lessons to add structure to my day.
I’d heard good things about Skillshare from several friends and decided now was the time to give it a try. One nice thing about Skillshare is that some classes are available with just a Free Membership, so you can sample classes and see how you like the platform before committing to more.
I ended up enjoying Skillshare so much that I sprang for a Premium Membership, which unlocks tons of classes: hours of content by hundreds of instructors, with a very high level of quality overall.
In this review, I’ll explain how Skillshare works, share my experience taking several Skillshare classes, and help you decide if this educational platform is a good fit for you.
What is Skillshare?
Skillshare is an online learning platform that hosts thousands of classes with an emphasis on creative topics, such as illustration, design, creative writing, animation, and the fine arts. There are also some classes oriented toward technical skills such as web design and coding. In addition, you’ll find classes on lifestyle and on various aspects of starting or running a business.
Who is Skillshare for?
With so many online educational platforms out there, how can you tell if Skillshare is right for you? Generally speaking, I’d say that Skillshare is well-suited to people who are…
- Curious about multiple creative or artistic skills (painting, sculpture, illustrating, and so on) and want access to a range of lessons.
- Looking for straightforward tutorials that walk you through new skills and techniques.
- Hoping to find that extra push of inspiration or motivation, whether in business or in a creative pursuit.
- Setting up a new website and unsure where to start.
- Interested in freelance work or entrepreneurship.
- Building new habits, skills, or routines to improve their daily lives.
How much does Skillshare cost?
Skillshare offers some classes for free and makes additional classes and features available through its Premium service. At time of writing (June 2020), this is what Skillshare Premium cost:
- $8.25 USD/month ($99 billed annually), OR
- $19 USD/month (billed monthly).
So as you can see, you get a steep per-month discount by paying upfront for a full year. But if you only really want access to a few classes, then it may be better to pay only for one month.
Skillshare sometimes runs promotions. For example, when I registered I received a special offer to pay only $4.95/month ($59 billed upon purchase) for my first year of Skillshare (followed by $99/year in subsequent years).
So if $8.25/month is tough for you, keep an eye out for promotions!
How Skillshare works:
First, note that there’s a distinction between Free and Premium. You can join Skillshare for free and gain access to some of their classes. Find free classes by filtering your search accordingly.
Upon upgrading to Premium Membership, you gain access to all Skillshare classes as well as additional features like offline viewing.
Second, note that Skillshare offers both classes and more structured workshops. Classes typically comprise a cluster of lessons on a specific topic. You can take them anytime. I would say that classes make up the backbone of Skillshare and provide the most flexible, plentiful learning opportunities.
Workshops generally involve taking multiple classes on a set schedule. For example, there is a workshop on starting a podcast that will be running from July 13 until August 10, 2020. This workshop combines two Skillshare classes, “How to Make a Podcast” (which I review below) and “Powerful Storytelling Today,” by two different instructors.
You have the flexibility to take either (or both) of these classes on your own schedule. What’s nice about the workshops is that they curate related classes for you and give you the extra accountability of a designated timeline.
So, do workshops cost an additional fee? That depends. You’ll need to check specifically for whichever workshop you have in mind, as some have one-off sign-up fees. Many don’t, however. In some cases, a workshop will involve a Premium class or classes, so you would just need a Premium membership to participate. If all the workshop classes are free, then a Free Membership will let you participate fully.
Finding a Skillshare class:
The Skillshare platform is pretty user-friendly; it’s easy to search for classes and find categories that interest you. You can browse by topic or simply type into the search bar if you have something specific already in mind.
When searching, you can filter by class length, and you can also see how many other students have taken each class.
Another way to search is to go to the main category (such as “Web Development”) and then narrow things down (for example, by clicking on “WordPress” under “Related Skills.”)
What comes up next is a screen showing relevant classes, which you can sort by either “Trending” or “Popular” and filter by class length and type (premium vs. free).
All in all, Skillshare makes it easy to navigate around and find classes that interest you. But with so many options available, it can be hard to decide what to take.
Once you click on a Skillshare class page, you can view previous students’ reviews of the class. To find reviews, scroll down just a bit below the course video and click on the “Reviews” tab:
My experience taking Skillshare courses:
I’ve taken multiple Skillshare classes this year. Here are five of my favourites:
Rumaan Alam, “Creative Writing for All: Develop a Regular & Rewarding Writing Practice”
Rumaan Alam, author of Rich and Pretty and That Kind of Mother, offers a short creative writing class on Skillshare. This was the first class I decided to take. His class is all about building a sustainable writing practice into your everyday life and finding inspiration for your own work—from stories you love, stories you hate, and the world all around you.
Rumaan encourages writers to consume critically. As he explains, we learn about effective storytelling from other people’s stories, whether by reading, listening to music, or watching television: “Your head is a library, and the more that you shove in there, the richer your work as a writer will be.”
Sometimes when I have writer’s block, I grow frustrated with myself for giving into temptation and stepping away from my work to read a fun mystery novel or watch TV. But as Rumaan reminds his listeners, there are times when we genuinely need to step back from our own writing and take in creative inspiration from elsewhere.
Instead of reading or watching TV mindlessly, though, we can engage with the work a bit more, asking ourselves how the writer structured the story, generated a moment of humour, or used specific strategies to pull on our emotions.
Rumaan has a friendly, easy-going speaking style, and watching his lessons is a bit like inviting a knowledgeable and supportive friend into your home via your laptop.
Here’s what I like about this creative writing Skillshare class:
- Practical exercises: Rumaan prompts you to do specific exercises to get you thinking about your writing process. To get the most from this class (and any class, really), I recommend that you follow through on these exercises.
- Logical structure: This class is well-organized and takes you through four basic steps, from “Consuming Critically” to “Honing Your Craft.”
- Short video lessons: Most lessons are around four to five minutes long (there are twelve total). Even on a busy day, I can easily fit in a five-minute video. I recommend watching one or two over breakfast to set the tone for the rest of your day.
- Thoughts on developing discipline: I enjoyed Rumaan’s discussion of finding the time to write regularly. Even though I have more free time than usual in 2020 due to the pandemic, I sometimes find the time slipping away, and my days all blur together with no structure. Rumaan offers good advice on carving out time for yourself and getting words on the page.
John Lagomarsino, “How to Make a Podcast: Plan, Record, and Launch with Success”
John is the Head of Production at Anchor, and he created this class for anyone new to the world of podcasting. That describes me, so I decided to try out the class! As an added bonus, this class is available for free; you just have to sign up for a Free Skillshare Membership to get started.
This class has twelve lessons, most between five and seven minutes in length. John covers the fundamental issues to think about as you’re conceptualizing your podcast: What are the big questions or ideas driving your podcast? Can you condense that big idea into a line or two? And how does your concept determine the format of your show?
Running about an hour total, this class is quick and no-nonsense—I watched it all at once, pausing occasionally to take notes. It’s designed to bring beginners up to speed, from formulating a compelling concept to launching successfully.
Once you’ve gained a bit more podcasting experience, you may want to dig deeper and take additional classes (for example, on honing your storytelling skills or on effectively marketing your podcast). But you should now have a solid baseline for starting out.
Here’s what I like about this podcasting class:
- Good overall framework: When you’re new to something (like podcasting), it’s hard to know what you don’t know. John addresses the big-picture questions to keep in mind and then walks through the process of planning your pilot episode, acquiring the necessary equipment, recording and mixing your pilot, and launching your show into the world.
- Straightforward instructor: John has a simple, friendly way of delivering information. He breaks everything down into doable components and explains everything very clearly. Having watched all the way through this class, I’m much more confident as I set off to make my first episode. While I’m sure I’ll make mistakes along the way, I now have a much more concrete plan than just “record audio on my phone and post online”!
- Concrete examples: John provides succinct examples illustrating the concepts he discusses. I like these examples because they give me ideas for cool shows to check out, and also because they give me a clearer idea of how to implement John’s advice in my own nascent podcast.
Danielle Clough, “Painting with Thread: Modern Embroidery for Beginners”
The still image for this class captured my eye: Embroiderer Danielle Clough is super talented at creating vivid images with needle and thread, and I loved learning some of her embroidery techniques and her overall approach to art.
I’m awful at sewing and can barely patch my socks together. But I love creative and artistic activities in general, and embroidery offers me a new way of bringing a creative vision to life. Embroidery lets you work with colour and texture and experiment with new techniques—and if you mess up, you can always pull out your stitches!
Danielle also shows you how to take your own reference photos and then transfer your images to fabric. I really like the idea of making my own embroidery designs, and Danielle’s instructions demystify the process and make it easy.
My quick review of this embroidery class:
- Creative inspiration: Danielle’s embroidered pieces are gorgeous and vibrant. Just seeing some of her samples made me want to create something. Now that I’ve gone through her class, I’m translating a photo of my dog into embroidery. I’ve made some missteps along the way, but it’s coming along nicely and I can’t wait to frame and hang it in my house.
- Good for beginners: I am definitely a novice embroiderer, but I found it easy to follow along with Danielle’s lessons. She provides clear demonstrations of basic techniques like backstitching, couching, and various types of fill stitches.
- Calming atmosphere: I’ve found this class to be the perfect antidote to stress. Danielle has a very calm, almost soothing tone of voice, and there’s something very relaxing about engaging in the repetitive motions of embroidery while watching something beautiful come to fruition.
Emma Gannon, “Discovering Success: 7 Exercises to Uncover Your Purpose, Passion & Path”
Whether you’re feeling stagnant in your day job or simply trying to inject a bit more purpose and creativity into your day, this class by Emma Gannon may be of interest. Emma’s class is all about forging your own path by identifying what truly animates and inspires you and then taking the actions necessary to bring that passion into your life.
As Emma says, “Success literally just means that you have reached a desired outcome, that you have achieved something that you set out to achieve.” It’s intensely personal and can mean different things to different people.
Here’s what I like about Emma’s class:
- Interactive exercises: Emma guides you through simple exercises (which are available as downloadable worksheets you can print out). These exercises are intended to help you discover your unique priorities and influences and figure out how to make the leap from where you are now to where you want to be.
- Concrete and helpful advice: After going through her four exercises, Emma offers advice on how to make a major change possible. Limited time and funds are often the biggest reasons why we end up feeling stuck—Emma gives clear examples and actionable advice for managing your time and money. After watching her lesson on time management, I looked over my weekly schedule and realized that I do have a few small blocks of time that I could repurpose—either toward a new goal or simply toward getting more sleep!
- Driven by Emma’s personal narrative: I like that Emma shares her own experiences with her students and shows how she transitioned from working a full-time job, to learning new skills and launching a side project, to turning that side project into a successful business. Emma tells her story in a way that is relatable and encouraging.
Hamid Athman, “Swahili Conversational Practice”
I took several Swahili classes in college and was excited to see that there is a Swahili instructor on Skillshare since I definitely need to brush up on my skills. Hamid is a fun and energetic teacher, and his classes have animated videos and dialogues to model real-life conversations.
As an avid language learner, I am always looking for high-quality comprehensible input, such as sample dialogues that model for me how a native speaker would phrase things.
To get comprehensible input, I might, for example, watch a film or read a novel in Swahili, but I’m so rusty that it’s hard to do that without looking up every word—which can get frustrating!
Hamid’s class was great for me because I could follow along with about 80 to 90% of the dialogues right off the bat and answer his review questions at the end of each lesson. I’m reinforcing skills I learned way back in undergrad, learning a few new words in each lesson, and having a great time. Now that I’ve finished his conversation course, I hope he adds some new classes!
My takeaways from this Skillshare language class:
- Emphasis on practical conversation: This class takes you into everyday situations—like strolling through a market, checking into a hotel, calling up a friend, or studying in a classroom—and demonstrates sample conversations using common vocab.
- Great for people with rusty language skills: Since I already have a grasp of Swahili grammar, this class was at the right level for me; it reminded me of a lot of the fundamental vocab that I thought I had long forgotten. If you’re newer to Swahili, you might want to try Hamid’s novice class.
- Engaging lessons and instructor: Hamid keeps his lessons bite-sized (around two to four minutes per lesson, adding up to around an hour of material in this conversation class). This makes it easy to fit a few lessons into a busy day, and has encouraged me to get back into the habit of daily language study.
Limitations of Skillshare
I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the classes I’ve taken on Skillshare, but this platform is not ideal for everyone. First of all, as the name Skillshare suggests, this platform is about teaching skills (creative and technical) rather than about providing a deep, comprehensive liberal arts education. Which is fine!
(If liberal arts subjects are more your thing, check out my The Great Courses review).
But if you want to develop a thorough and systematic understanding of, say, History or Biology, this is not the platform you want. You won’t find university-style courses in the Humanities, Social Sciences, or Natural Sciences on Skillshare—more on this in the next section, where I’ll outline some Skillshare alternatives.
Skillshare has thousands of classes and a huge number of instructors, so it’s inevitable that there will be some variation in educational quality, and some variation in how much each instructor “clicks” with you. I’ve personally found Skillshare classes to offer high-quality, valuable information, but I’m sure there are classes on here that are less than great.
It can also be difficult to decide which class(es) to try. Let’s say you want to create your own WordPress website, for instance, so you search “WordPress website” on Skillshare. Last I checked, that got over 400 results!
So, you may spend a bit of time clicking on different classes, skimming through reviews, and watching introductory lessons before you settle on the best class.
Finally, keep in mind that you will have limited (if any) interaction with your Skillshare instructors and your fellow students. The classes are generally designed so that you can work through them at your own pace.
There is a tab for discussion, but this is simply not the same as an in-person conversation or access to one-on-one “office hours” with the instructor. There is also a space where students can share projects they’ve completed for the class; it can be fun to scroll through these to see what other people have accomplished!
Overall, I haven’t personally had much community engagement on Skillshare, but this is quite a common feature for online learning platforms, and doesn’t really bother me.
If the skills you hope to learn are more professional or vocational (instead of creative), then I recommend looking into Udacity, which offers courses and “Nanodegrees” in Data Science, Artificial Intelligence, Programming and Development, Autonomous Systems, Business, and Career.
You might prefer Skillshare if you just want to learn how to start a blog or make a simple website, but if you truly need a deep dive into programming or computer science, Udacity is a better choice.
In terms of career skills, I find Skillshare to be great in general freelancing and creative careers, but anyone looking for a career in, say, Machine Learning or IT would probably be better served by Udacity.
MasterClass, on the other hand, is all about creative inspiration. Instructors are chosen from the top levels of their respective fields: Simone Biles teaches gymnastics, Neil Gaiman teaches storytelling, Helen Mirren teaches acting, and so on.
I think MasterClass is a worthwhile alternative to Skillshare if you are a creative writer, since the platform hosts classes by multiple authors (Joyce Carol Oates, R.L. Stine, and Malcolm Gladwell, to name a few).
MasterClass is also good for people in search of creative inspiration or who want a peek behind the curtains of a particular field, whether acting, space exploration, or cooking. If you ever wondered about a day in the life of an astronaut, MasterClass is here for you.
If, however, you want practical lessons on painting, drawing, embroidery, paper crafting and the like, head to Skillshare instead. Skillshare has a great repertoire in artistic skills, while MasterClass does not (yet) cover these areas.
When people think of online learning platforms, they often imagine something similar to the traditional university classroom, the only difference being that everything is virtual. If this is what you have in mind, head to Coursera.
I’m very fond of Coursera and have enjoyed taking college-style classes on topics such as ancient Roman architecture and the science of well-being. It’s a great platform for improving your general knowledge (whether in the humanities, social sciences, or natural sciences).
But Coursera is less useful for learning specific skills. If you want instruction targeted toward a particular, concrete skill, then Skillshare is definitely the better option.
Conclusion: Is Skillshare worth it?
In my experience: Absolutely! I love the variety I can find on Skillshare, and so far every instructor I’ve encountered has been incredibly engaging. I’m looking forward to trying a few more Skillshare classes on various artistic techniques (I have my eye on Introduction to Quilling and Watercolor in the Woods).
Skillshare is a fantastic option for people interested in the fine arts, writing, photography, graphic design, and other creative fields, as well as anyone curious about entrepreneurship, freelancing, or simply building a more fulfilling lifestyle. Which Skillshare class do you find most tempting?