Education: Ph.D. & Postdoc, Computer Science
College: UC Berkeley EECS, Stanford University
Previous Career: Professor, Stanford University
In 2012, Koller and Andrew Ng, both Computer Science professors at Stanford, had spearheaded an effort to offer three Stanford computer science courses for free online. The classes were interactive, with short video lectures, discussion forums, quizzes, and homework assignments that were graded by other students using a rubric provided by professors. Even though students didn't earn academic credit for it, the courses were a hit. “With no marketing, each of those courses had more than 100,000 learners,” Koller says. “It was a wake-up call about the demand for this type of education around the world.”
In the space of a few months, she and Ng persuaded the universities of Princeton, Penn and Michigan to sign on. They wanted to leverage not only the best that Stanford had to offer, but the offerings from other colleges as well. Though Coursera had no monetisation plan, investors jumped on board. This was because they felt Coursera had the right ingredients to be successful. "Higher education costs too much, and it’s not available to enough people", says John Doerr, a lead investor at the time. Doerr recommended Koller and Ng consult with Rick Levin, an economist who had served as the president of Yale for 20 years. In 2014, Levin joined as CEO, after which Coursera began charging $30 to $70 to students who wanted course completion certificates. This was when they started making revenue.
In 2012, MOOCs were all the rage, which saw Coursera's popularity surge with it. But a couple of years later, the narrative had completely shifted due to the seemingly low course engagement and completion rates. The Coursera team ignored the chatter. When Levin turned the company over to incoming CEO Jeff Maggioncalda, it was on an upswing. Its enterprise business was taking off, and it had tripled its revenue that year.
"Our approach to education has remained largely unchanged since the Renaissance: From middle school through college, most teaching is done by an instructor lecturing to a room full of students, only some of them paying attention."