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Article By: Eva Pereira, Forbes Staff (Source

Is the next Steve Jobs in Nairobi? That’s what Daphne Koller hopes to discover.

In January of this year, she and fellow Stanford colleague Andrew Ng launched Coursera, an online education platform that offers courses from top universities for free. With the new platform Koller, a professor of Computer Science and artificial intelligence expert, hopes to make education open and accessible to all.

Presenting at TEDGlobal in Edinburgh, Scotland, Koller argued that the Web provides a big opportunity to provide better quality instruction than received in most lecture halls to thousands of people who lack access to higher education. “Big breakthoughs happen when what is suddenly possible meets what is desperately necessary,” she said, quoting Thomas Friedman.

Coursera features courses from top universities such as Princeton, Stanford, U Penn, and the University of Michigan. Over 640,000 students from 190 countries have participated in their courses, viewing a total of 14 million videos and taking over 6 million quizzes. “Unsurprisingly, students like getting the best content from the best universities for free,” she said.

Koller believes that online courses should go beyond the lecture hall approach, where students watch videos and passively soak in information, towards a more personalized and highly interactive approach. Students enrolled in Coursera classes can organize themselves into study groups based on geographic location, interest area, or language.

Course material is broken down into digestible chunks and, to ensure that the material is soaking in, the videos pause throughout the lesson to ask questions, prompting students to recall information from previously mastered lessons. Grading is handled automatically, and in some cases, through peer or self-review, which Koller explained, is a remarkably reliable method. After a course is successfully completed, a certificate is awarded to the student.

One major benefit of the online classroom over the lecture hall is the ease with which data can be collected and used to improve courses. Data on which test questions are most frequently missed, to the amount of time spent on each question is collected. Through the data points, they can better understand what works and what doesn’t work – and use that information to improve the courses.

Online education is a growing field, with new players emerging left and right…Read More

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Founder & Head of Data Science Search at Starbridge Partners, LLC.