Why I’m Thrilled to Join Coursera

After a year of teaching and learning in Malaysia, I’m thrilled to begin the next chapter of my quest to empower and educate by working with the committed, brilliant, quirky, and ambitious Coursera team to do so on a massive scale.

“When you look back at history, all the great moments […] that define the human race were about education. Greco-Roman civilization, the Renaissance, the Industrial Revolution.”
Jose Ferreira, Founder & CEO at Knewton

Remember learning about how the printing press revolutionized education in Europe, mass-producing newspapers crammed with ideas and putting textbooks in students hands? 200 years from now, I’m betting that history will be writing about online education as the subsequent educational revolution that started showing signs of life in the 2010s.

Over the past century, technology has drastically transformed everything from transportation to the cubicle, from entertainment to architecture. Yet, the vast majority of classrooms look the same as they did centuries ago. But now it’s education’s turn for a makeover.

Education costs are sprinting ahead of their ROI. Internet adoption in developing countries is nearing its tipping point. Technology is personalizing mass education. We’re in the nascent stages of the perfect storm.

coursera_logo_RGB

Enter Coursera, “a social entrepreneurship company that partners with the top universities in the world to offer courses online for anyone to take, for free.”

Here’s a one-minute intro to the course I’m currently taking:

Coursera is a community of 2.5 million users (with the majority coming from outside of the U.S.), and reached its first million more quickly than either Facebook or Twitter. GigaOm, VentureBeat, TechCrunch, and its fans awarded it “Best New Startup of 2012” and runner up for “Best Education Startup.”

But beneath the buzz, figures more paramount to the Coursera team seem to include how many of the 400,000 California community college students on vast waitlists no longer have to unnecessarily pay an extra semester’s tuition, the significant portion of needy students receiving financial aid should they choose to receive verified certification, the number of single parents who no longer have to choose between an Associate’s degree and feeding their children healthily, and the increased probability of sparking the next Einstein currently in a remote village hungry for education (as co-founder Daphne Koller hoped for in her TEDTalk).

A Google Trends analysis of “Coursera” search volume

It’s quite an ambitious mission. Sure, there are plenty of unsolved challenges that attracts naysayers in hoards. That’s why co-founder Andrew Ng refers to Coursera as a quest. As one of my favorite sayings goes, you must stray from the pack in order to lead it.

Amidst the uncharted tumultuous trek ahead, there’s one thing that will remain constant at Coursera: its unwavering commitment to free quality education to those who can’t afford it.

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