By Jorge Manuel Zelaya Fajardo
June 11, 2019
The first time I spoke with Fernando Herrera, he seemed to me like a simple, somewhat introverted man, with sincere desires to share what he knows. I sat with him at a modest coffee shop in a busy shopping mall in Tegucigalpa, Honduras on a Wednesday afternoon. When I finished the meeting with him, I kept thinking the same thing as at the beginning of our meeting; but now I had certain adjectives to add to describe Fernando. Adjectives to describe the impressive numbers achieved by this young man born in Guápiles, Limón province, in the Caribbean of the Republic of Costa Rica, 33 years ago.
I never imagined I was talking to the instructor with most registered students (137,922 students in 22 courses) in Spanish (Spain and Latin America included) in UDEMY (an online learning platform, with its first course was launched in 2010). I really needed some time to digest the amount of 137,922 students (read as individual, not repeated, users). Those numbers were, for me, somewhat superlative in dimension, since my cognitive ability, having given my first class (of English as a second language in a non-curricular university format) at age 18 and my first master's class at 31, I could not understand how, in so little time (he released his first course in UDEMY in 2015), this young man had had (and has) many more students than me. In order to understand these numbers a bit, we must understand the story, the business model and the disruptive strategy behind UDEMY.
UDEMY ("The Academy of you" in English or "Tu Academia" in Spanish) is born from the original idea of Erin Bali, who, being in his native-born Turkey, had the vision that, on the internet, people should be able to learn anything, being anywhere in the world at any time. "The best teachers in the world might be in the places you least imagine doing other things," says Bali, defending a business model where the teacher, the learning platform and the student relate to each other very differently to how traditional education has done it for many decades (not only in the structure of costs, asynchrony of interaction with the teacher-student-content, and non-recognition of university credits for the given courses). UDEMY today has 30 million students, more than 100,000 courses offered by a bit more than 42,000 instructors, in more than 50 languages.
Once I understood UDEMY's business model, I understood Fernando Herrera much better. The situation could not be more particular: a professor of higher education like me was about to receive a class from a UDEMY professor; however, the class would not be from Angular, Flutter, Ionic or Node (subjects he masters in several of his 22 listed courses). He would teach me how to teach differently. To challenge my paradigms and embrace change with a focus on the end user/client/student.
Fernando Herrera has found in UDEMY a place where he combines his passion for developing software applications and being a teacher. His technical expertise and his didactic talent. His professional experience with something he himself says he can do every day of his life.
Fernando Herrera shares, with simplicity and propriety, what he has needed to get where he is. "You don’t need an expensive camera team or a sophisticated study; but what I do recommend is a good microphone.” —Fernando pointed out to me as he finished his cup of coffee in our meeting. For Fernando, the secret lies in teaching how he would have liked to learn. He shares his story with a naturality that could make us believe that it was easy, when he himself says he was not sure that anyone in the world would enroll in his course. "When the first student wrote to me saying that the course he had taken with me was the best one until that moment, I told myself ‘...well I must be doing something right’." —he confessed to me with some relief, at the same time that he always emphasized the fact that he who is afraid of failure in this business has already failed.
In 2018, UDEMY invited Fernando to San Francisco, California, to share his experiences with the best teachers of the platform worldwide, since, for the quality of his courses, he had become one of the instructors that had helped the most with the growth of UDEMY.
Fernando Herrera has another virtue: he is hungry. He is hungry to continue teaching students through his online courses. He is hungry to share people who want to teach like him, but who don’t know how to do it. He is hungry to continue changing people's lives through education and learning. He is hungry to continue doing it for the rest of his life, as he says it himself.
I have always thought that learning and teaching are variables of the same equation; but after meeting Fernando, watching his 13-thousand-follower and 345-video-YouTube channel, I’ve started to think that we all have the responsibility to share what we know to give the value of "executable file (without virus)" to knowledge itself.
I am proud that Fernando Herrera is my teacher. I'm learning a lot. I hope to learn more.