Nicholas Kristof & Sheryl WuDunn on expanding global opportunity, teaching on Udemy

We were thrilled to announce earlier this week that Pulitzer Prize-winning, husband-and-wife duo Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn have published a Udemy course called “How to Make a Difference,” based on their books Half the Sky and A Path Appears. As they describe it, the course “is designed for anyone who wants to leave a mark on the world, make a difference, and learn a few secrets about how to live a happier, healthier and more meaningful life.”

Half The SkyNicholas and Sheryl recently did an email Q&A with us to share why they decided to create an online course on Udemy and what they hope it will accomplish. They’re also doing a private video Q&A later this month, and enrolled students will receive more details on that soon!

Udemy: How does teaching online fit into your other activities, i.e., why not just another book? What was the trigger that made you decide you should create an online course and why do you see Udemy’s teaching/learning marketplace as the right channel for sharing your content and getting people involved in your project(s)?

Nicholas/Sheryl: We care deeply about the issues in our books–about empowering women worldwide, and helping people make a difference. But frankly, not everyone reads books: Picking up a 300-page book is a significant barrier, while watching videos may be a little easier and friendlier. We’ve heard a lot about online courses and thought we would experiment with this as a way of engaging our audiences–and challenging them.

Udemy: What were your goals and expectations when you started out to create this course? Did you have any misconceptions that were corrected along the way? Any happy surprises?

Nicholas/Sheryl: We frankly didn’t know what to expect, and it was pretty informal. We filmed in our house, without a script, just talking about particular topics. So it felt kind of cozy and informal. We do a lot of television, and this was much more casual than that–which was nice!

p. 172 The end-of-year party for students at Kennedy and Jessica's school in Kibera. Most of the students test above American grade levels, even though English is often their third language (Nicholas Kristof)

The end-of-year party for students in Kibera. (Nicholas Kristof)

Udemy: Why do people need an online course to teach them how to “make a difference”? What can you achieve through a Udemy course that isn’t possible in other formats?

Nicholas/Sheryl: A Udemy course probably isn’t the only way to get particular information, any more than a book is, or a documentary. Rather we think of the information we’ve acquired, and we want to distribute it across platforms. Some people like books and will want to access it that way. Others will watch our television documentaries. And some will find an online course the most engaging way to interact with us and the material. We’re platform neutral!

Udemy: What do you think of the power and potential of online learning to help people around the world improve their lives? How does this fit with the current state of higher education, especially in the U.S., where college is too expensive and inaccessible for many?

Nicholas/Sheryl: American universities were talking a lot about globalizing through overseas campuses, and then that conversation was overtaken to some degree by online courses. Look, we’re still believers in direct in-person teaching where that’s feasible. That’s optimal. But it’s not always practical, and the truth is that access to the best classrooms has always been limited. Now all of a sudden a kid in the tribal areas of Pakistan who has an Internet connection can take an online course, and so can a Nigerian girl or a Mongolian boy. A classroom can be expanded from 50 people to 7 billion, and that’s a fantastic boon for the capacity for human learning.

Udemy: What do you tell your three children or hope for them as far as their own educations are concerned? What are the things that keep you up at night when you think about the world they will inherit?

mukhtar1 mai not for course

Mukhtar Mai fought against her sexual assaulters and started a school for girls in Punjab, Pakistan. (Nicholas Kristof)

Nicholas/Sheryl: We tell them that it’s important not just to possess knowledge but to have critical thinking, strong social and communication skills, the capacity for leadership–and, maybe most important, the ability to solve problems. Those are the skills that will be needed in the mid-21st century. In the past, the most important skills were repetitive ones–the blacksmith, the boot maker, even the salesman–but increasingly those will be taken over by machines, and humans will be given the tasks involving creativity, problem solving, leadership and communication.

Udemy: Who’s the intended audience for this course, and what are the top one or two takeaways you’d want every student to get out of it? What are the actions you hope they’ll take as a result?

Nicholas/Sheryl: Our audience is everyone who yearns for a bit more meaning in life, for a bit more fulfillment or purpose. We think a lot of people would like to do something to make a difference, but they just don’t know how to help–and we want to show them that it is possible. Any one of us may not be able to save the world, but we can help transform the lives of people, by sending them to school, or giving them medicines or whatever the key is. As for what actions people will take after the course, we’ll leave that to them–but we do want them to act in some way. The purpose of this course is not just to educate people, but to help them take steps and do something. that will help others and themselves.

good pick abbas not for in course

Formerly trafficked, Abbas Be now works at the Prajwala women’s shelter in Hyderabad, India. (Nicholas Kristof)

Don’t forget to register for Nicholas and Sheryl’s course so you can join their live, private Q&A!