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We have been hearing about the disruptive potential of online education for at least a decade now. Yet over the past months, online education has taken a giant leap forward. A number of new, high-profile ventures feature professors from elite universities offer free courses online. All of these courses have video and social-networking components. All have attracted millions of dollars in funding.

Andrew Ng and his Stanford colleague, Daphne Koller, decided to leave their tenured faculty posts and dive into online teaching full-time. They launched their company, Coursera, with a $16 million round of venture funding. The most intriguing aspect of the Coursera endeavor, however, is how quickly it promises to expand beyond a niche audience.

Indeed, broadband access is growing even in poor and middle-income countries, making online education both easily accessible and far more functional. At least 600 million people now have the ability to stream video, compared with only 300 million in 2007. Obviously, the potential impact is huge. To Ng and Koller, Coursera’s mission is simple and yet absurdly grand: to teach millions of people around the world for free, while also transforming how top universities teach.



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Daphne Koller