Today online education startup Coursera is announcing the addition of 12 new institutional partners, adding to its four current partners, which include Princeton and Stanford University. The new partners include the University of Washington, Duke University and California Institute of Technology, as well as the University of Edinburgh and Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne, the company’s first international partners. The company is also announcing $3.7 million in new investment from Caltech and existing partner the University of Pennsylvania, with participation from current investors New Enterprise Associates (NEA) and Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers. That brings Coursera’s total Series A funding to over $22 million.
The company launched to the public in April 2012, and since then they’ve had 1.5 million enrolments in 43 courses, with 680,000 students using the platform in from over 190 countries. Co-founder and Stanford computer science professor Daphne Koller said they weren’t really looking to take on more investment, but partner universities expressed interest. “It wasn’t so much that we needed the additional funding at this point, we don’t, but rather that some of the universities we were working with were actively interested in having a stake in us,” Koller said. “Getting the money wasn’t about getting money, it was part of developing relationships with our partner universities.”
Lausanne’s Ecole Polytechnique Federale (EPFL) will offer courses in French, the first school to offer courses for non-English speaking students. While currently some courses have subtitles, the subtitles are crowdsourced by students, so they’re not always accurate or universally available. Koller said the ultimate goal is to open up Coursera in as many languages as possible. “Our mission is to educate as many people as we can in as many topics as would be of interest, and definitely expanding into more languages is one of our goals,” she said.
While most of the classes to date have been in the maths and sciences, Koller said they have started to add courses in the humanities. They recently ran a particularly popular Princeton sociology class, with 40,000 students enrolled, and they’ve also launched three medical classes. “We’ve really been developing pedagogy in new directions that have taught us a lot about how to teach online across a range of disciplines.”
Koller said the focus for the next few months will be adding to the number of courses, and expanding their coverage areas, as well as providing comprehensive training in specific areas. The company will also focus on making the platform available offline, which Koller said will be essential for realizing their goal of providing education to the developing world. “Infrastructure problems and connectivity problems are definitely an issue there, so we know we need to provide students with a way of accessing our content, even when they’re not connected 100 percent of the time.”
Last time we wrote about Coursera we noted that they didn’t have any monetization plans, which is still the case a few months after launch. But Koller maintains that the focus is on offering free education to anyone who wants to take courses, and that the business model will follow. “It’s not a second-class shoddy education, but rather a way of using technology to level the playing field and making high-level education available to everyone.”