In April 2011, popular Bollywood singer and composer Shankar Mahadevan was in the SF Bay Area to make a public demonstration of his online music school,www.shankarmahadevanacademy.com. A virtual setting for a music school is appealing to those who want to learn music for fun, or just one song, but are intimidated by the concept of a “guru” and the rigorous demands made on schedules and effort; to NRI parents unable to find good teachers in their neighborhoods; and to those who want to pick up learning music from where they left off in India, but are uncomfortable in a group setting.

Mahadevan’s school offers self-study and instructor-led sessions in bite-size schedules. Courses run up to just 12 weeks at a time in Karnatik, Hindustani, Hindi movie songs, and devotional singing. Costs range from $9.99 for a self-study, Hindi movie song, four week course, to $299 for a 12 week course in classical singing. The virtual class demo on the website shows an instructor listening to a student in real-time, but feedback is provided to recordings as well.

The Academy claims to have a rigorous curriculum, with strict quality standards. Teachers are personally endorsed by Mahadevan, and courses are designed by renowned exponents of their genre. Learning is achieved through a combination of the OM Book™, weekly 30-minute online virtual classes with a small group of students, and assessments or certifications.

I spoke with Mahadevan about the OM book, the technology powering online learning, and his mission for the online school.

What was your motivation in starting the academy?

It has always been my dream to reach the millions of people around the world who are passionate about Indian music and want to learn. I want to teach in a way that makes complex concepts simple enough for anyone to understand, making music learning accessible to everyone. I wanted to provide a more structured learning experience with clearly defined syllabus and curriculum and, mostly importantly, make the experience fun!
What technology drives the virtual classroom?

Shankar Mahadevan Academy is a joint venture between me and CloodOn, a provider of virtual learning software founded by executives from Yahoo and Dell.

How long has it been in the works?

It was always been my dream to start a music academy and leave behind a legacy for music enthusiasts. In June 2010 in Mumbai, I connected with Sridhar Ranganathan, my good friend from engineering college and the founder and CEO of CloodOn, to discuss how his technology could be used to make my dream a reality in the shortest period of time. Our initial discussion started with a brick-and-mortar academy, but it quickly became very clear that the fastest way to make my dream come true would be through an online academy.

CloodOn, under my guidance, quickly created a pilot concept for the Academy and ran a series of free and paid pilot programs to test the technology, pedagogy concepts of the academy, curriculum, and content. The pilots were immensely successful and almost all of the students were eager to continue learning with the Academy. The success of the pilots gave all of us the inspiration and momentum to officially launch the Academy in March 2011.

Because we used CloodOn as the platform, we were able to go from concept to pilot to launch in just 7 months.  Classes officially started on March 3rd, 2011, which happens to be my birthday.

How many students are already enrolled?  And from where?

Our current students are all from the United States, as that is where we decided to launch it here first.  Students are from both large metro areas such as San Francisco and New York City, as well as smaller cities such as Cleveland, OH and Rochester, NY. Our students have a wide range in age, from as young as 7 or 8 to adults in their 60s and 70s. We signed on 100 students just a few weeks after the launch!

Tell us a little bit about the curriculum.

I personally oversee and endorse the curriculum for all of our course programs, which are designed by highly regarded artists. Students can either learn for fun with our Hindi movie song and devotional song courses, or can pursue serious learning of music with our Karnatik and Hindustani certificate programs, which have clearly defined levels, assessments, and certifications for successful completion.

What is the OM Book?

The OM Book is a self-learning tool that teaches music concepts through videos of highly regarded artists, animations, quizzes, theory, and practice recording tools. Students use the OM Book to learn and practice at their own time and at their own pace before attending their virtual classes.

How much time do you spend with the students?

As a founder of the Academy, I’m fully engaged in all key aspects of the Academy including design of curriculum, course content, pedagogy philosophy, culture, teacher quality, and the online experience. I also record introductions to our OM Books to provide students with the background and history of the music style they are learning. I also truly enjoy listening to students and watching them learn, and to that end I do visit virtual classes on a periodic basis.

For more information on the academy, visit http://www.shankarmahadevanacademy.com.
Priya Das is an avid follower of world music.

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