Coursera Aims To Make America’s Higher Ed System Interactive And Public, Secures $22 Million

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The dream of two Stanford professors of making America’s higher education system interactive and universally accessible just got one step closer, with an extra $3.7 million in funding ($22mm total) and 13 new university partners, including Caltech and Duke. “I think the reason for the huge enrollments is that these are real courses,” says Coursera Co-founder Andrew Ng, who met up with TechCrunch at the Annual Aspen Ideas Festival*. With an expanded university roster, a swelling piggy bank, and 1.5 million users, Coursera has become a major player the recent surge of universities and for-profit education organizations looking to dominate the web.

Like MIT and Harvard’s joint online education initiative, Coursera aims to bring actual top university courses online with a measure of interactivity and peer support. In addition to the same video lectures and reading materials enjoyed by enrolled students, Coursera provides interactive quizzes, tailored learning, and homework help from a student’s digital peers.

To incentivize peer support, Ng says that students are rewarded for helping to grade other students, after they can prove that their assessments match the same grade that the instructor gives on a set of student homework. This way, Coursera peer support approaches the same quality that enrolled students get with professors. Still, Ng says that Coursera cannot replace universities, since it’s impossible for online students to get the same one-on-one mentoring with a professor.

We’ve been critical of online education in the past, arguing that video lectures, even enhanced with some interactivity, still propagate the antiquated memorization-obsessed education standards of the 20th century. While Coursera isn’t looking to revamp education, students can have confidence that online learning is a quality experience, as a review of research by the Department of Education found that students learning online performed as well as those in physical classrooms.

Coursera has no immediate plans for monetization, but is mulling ideas like selling certifications. Their newest equity funding round comes from “two universities, as well as additional investment from current investors New Enterprise Associates and Kleiner, Perkins, Caufield & Byers Education,” according to a press release. Education is a big (big) market, and as college costs outpace many Americans’ ability to pay tuition, the market will be ripe for a leader.

*Disclosure: I help the Aspen Institute with a separate government innovation-related conference

Image Credit: Flickr User 401(K) 2012