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online education for the massesTwo Stanford University professors and a dream to educate the world, that’s what started Coursera. The service offers university-level courses to anyone with an Internet for free and just raised $16 million from venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers.

“Imagine a future where the top universities are educating thousands of people,” said co-founder Andrew Ng in an interview with VentureBeat.

Ng and co-founder Daphne Koller started Coursera with three classes in fall 2011 from Stanford. For at least one of the classes, Ng tells me, there were 100,00 students enrolled. In typical online course fashion, lectures were video-taped and there was a discussion forum for students to get help or discuss concepts. Koller and Ng were blown away by the forums: Thousands of students were conversing about their course work, with question response times averaging at 22 minutes. Because of the sheer volume of students from around the world, someone was almost always online to help.

Cousera is expanding its offerings now, with more than 30 classes to choose from in a wide range of disciplines. The company has partnered with Stanford, Princeton, University of California at Berkeley, University of Michigan, and University of Pennsylvania to bring professor-created classes online.

Aside from offering free courses to the masses, Coursera’s learning management service (LMS) platform can be used internally by universities to revamp their online course programs. The plan is to shake up how most college classes are typically run —  with long, boring lectures. Ng and Koller believe that short online video lectures and interactive assignments, provided with Coursera’s LMS, will open up more time in classrooms for discussions, case studies, and more riveting presentations that will keep students engaged.

If Coursera reminds you of Khan Academy, you’re not far off. The company feels it’s similar to the service, but instead offers online college-level classes designed and taught by professors. Students also sign up for classes on a schedule, so they are all taking the class at the same time and can rely on others to help them understand the material.

The new funding round will be used for the infrastructure of the service. Koller and Ng are the educational brains behind the Coursera, but now they need technical help and will be hiring engineers to build out the website and LMS.

Coursera is based in Palo Alto California and was founded in 2011.

Graduation cap image via Shutterstock

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