CodeLesson Offers Instructor-led Tech Courses Online to Challenge University Model

: Online courses in the latest programming languages and platforms, with demand driving new courses. Instructors are vetted experts who communicate with students and answer questions via message boards. A course start date is set once enough students have signed up for it.

Courses typically last four to six weeks and cost around $300 depending on the technology being taught. Passing the course earns the student a "badge" on their CodeLesson profile page.

Students come from all over the world, and some instructors are from outside the U.S.

LAUNCHERS: Jeffrey McManus (CEO) was eBay's first technology evangelist and co-founded/led the Yahoo Developer Network team. Ernie Hsiung, a developer, has worked for Ning and Yahoo (and is founder/editor of the blog).

WHY: Latest technology is always changing, and technologies themselves evolve. Tech professionals need to get up to speed quickly. Universities don't teach these skills and if they wanted to, it would take them years to develop the curriculum. Teachers can make the difference between whether a student gets through a course or gives up.

WHEN/WHERE: July 2010 / San Francisco. Launch of "be your own technical co-founder" series of courses for entrepreneurs: July 19.

BACKSTORY: Jeffrey has deep experience in technical education, having taught corporate groups as well as written numerous books. The University of Victoria in Canada, where he has taught courses, had him develop a web design and management class. Since he retained rights to the materials, that became the first CodeLesson course (PHP A/B series -- both of which he still teaches).

GOAL: "Today we are trying to solve certain problems pertaining to how technical professionals learn new things. Long term it could be easy to see how to take this model and build it out to other types of learning," says Jeffrey.

BUSINESS MODEL: Demand-driven pricing for courses -- the airline-ticket pricing model applied to education. "Universities have a one-size-fits-all approach in pricing," says Jeffrey, giving English and engineering classes the same value. He wants to tailor prices to ability to pay, for instance charging students in India less than those in the U.S.

Sponsored courses -- for example, Etsy offered a free course for developers to learn its API (and supplied its own instructor). Such courses can generate paying students. Jeffrey also sees potential in offering A.P. computer science test-prep courses to high school students.

: Given a base plus a bonus that depends on different variables. Instructors "get paid proportionately more if we see more paid students in a course," Jeffrey says.

COMPETITION: Do-it-yourself approach (common among developers). University extension programs and community colleges. Services like, part of education company Cengage. To some extent prerecorded videos although some CodeLesson courses include them.

CUSTOMERS/GROWTH: From about a half-dozen courses at launch to 40-plus now. Not disclosing total number of students, though 50% to 60% of those registered on the site have taken a course. The others are generally "waiting for a course to start or kicking the tires."

Jeffrey says CodeLesson has experimented with paid search to bring in new students but has not had funds to do larger campaigns.

ON THE NEW SERIES FOR FOUNDERS: Inspired by discussions Jeffrey and Ernie had seen on startup message boards and blogs. "It was responsible for the busiest day on the site in
terms of unique visitors since April, so that's a positive," Jeffrey says. It will be easier to judge the series' success later this year as it can take anywhere from days to months for a critical mass of students to sign up.

WHAT A CODELESSON STUDENT SAYS: Melinda Byerley is VP of marketing at PlantSense in the Bay Area. She took a WordPress class last summer and has since recommended the service on Twitter and Facebook. "This is a far better, convenient, affordable, and more personalized way to learn. It's very confidence-building because you're making mistakes in private," she says.

WHO BACKED IT:  Bootstrapped. Running on operating revenue and "a little side consulting," says Jeffrey. Raising seed round right now of at least $300K. Round will close in four to six weeks; 500 Startups and a few angels are already in.

NUMBER OF EMPLOYEES: 2 plus 25 contract instructors.


Click on "browse our courses" on the homepage to see all offerings. Sort courses by topic area with the buttons at the top. Shown here are the four database courses.

The description page for each course gives the course outline, information about the instructor(s), related courses as well as prerequisites and class duration. Click on the "pricing" link at the top left to see the cost -- some courses offer a 10% discount for two students enrolling at the same time, some offer a discount for taking courses together, such as beginner and intermediate PHP.

Once you're enrolled, the course landing page provides links to lessons for each week, including the required reading, videos to watch, homework, and quizzes. The "discussion" links go to forums, where you post questions for the instructor -- the meat of your interaction.

Anyone registered in CodeLesson's system (even if no course has been purchased) has a profile page that includes their photo, bio, social media links, current enrollments and any badges earned from successfully completing CodeLesson courses.


1. "Online Education and the Market for Superstar Teachers" (Marginal Revolution, December 8, 2009)

2. "College for $99 a Month" (Washington Monthly, September/October 2009)


Jeffrey McManus
Twitter: @jeffreymcmanus

Ernie Hsiung
Twitter: @ernieatlyd



After we published this profile, we heard back from a CodeLesson instructor, Van Nguyen, who has taught Node.js. Here is the unedited email Q&A.

LAUNCH: How did you become a CodeLesson instructor?

Van Nguyen: I saw that there was a Node.js course posted on CL but the instructor had declined teaching.  I wanted him to push harder and find someone - a lot of people I know wanted a course like this. Turned out Jeffrey and I had a lot of mutual acquaintances and he tracked me down, determined that I might be a good fit to teach the course, and asked me to.

LAUNCH: How many Node courses have you taught?

VN: have only taught one with 11 students.  

LAUNCH: What did you like most and least about your experience?

VN: The quality of the students was simultaneously the best and worst part. The students were smart, resourceful, and an absolute pleasure to engage with. This quality also makes them extremely busy with their day job and not everyone could put in as much time as they wanted.