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Crowdsourcing Education Reform

If knowledge is power, Michael Karnjanaprakorn is helping to empower a lot of people. He’s the co-founder and CEO of Skillshare, an online education portal where long-held and outdated beliefs about teachers and students are debunked. But the fire that drives him to demand a shift in education wasn’t sparked in long business planning sessions or at a startup convention. The catalyst came from doing something we’ve all done: watching a documentary.

The film was “The Lottery,” a showcase of failures of the “traditional” public school system. “Since the pinnacle of education is getting into college, I believe higher education has shifted from learning to profit maximization as its core purpose,” he wrote on his blog in early 2010, offering a list of high-level solutions to the student loan crisis like repayment reform and a government-funded education system.

Unfortunately, Karnjanaprakorn didn’t have the power to make those things happen. What he did have, however, was an entrepreneurial spirit that led him to dream up a marketplace for affordable, high-quality education. For Karnjanaprakorn, education means actively learning, and he believes there are no better teachers in the world than those actually doing the work themselves. Along with co-founder Malcolm Ong, Karnjanaprakorn sought out a way to connect eager learners with experts who wanted to share their individual skills, and without racking up tens of thousands of dollars in debt.

"Education shouldn’t cost $40,000 or $50,000, and someone in Somalia should be able to learn from someone in New York," Karnjanaprakorn says. In his vision, everyone is a teacher, and so he built a system that brings out the educator in all of us. Skillshare, launched just months after cementing his desire for a new education option in 2010, was the realization of that vision. For $9.95 a month, Skillshare lets anyone learn from an expert in their field, either in an online format or through in-person classes.

The response was huge. From a starting point of searching for just one teacher to launch a course, Skillshare exploded in popularity. Karnjanaprakorn’s creation is now a platform for hundreds of thousands of learners, who are gaining a real-world angle on everything from culinary arts and computer programming to fashion design and photography.

Reforming education isn’t something most people set out to do within their lifetime, but Karnjanaprakorn tapped into something that resides within all of us: the desire to learn. And while Skillshare might not be challenging college enrollment, it’s accomplishing exactly what Karnjanaprakorn set out to do.

E*TRADE and Skillshare are separate and unaffiliated companies and this article does not represent a recommendation by E*TRADE to buy any specific security.