Top universities to offer free online courses

Web-based courses from Princeton, Stanford, the University of Michigan and the University of Pennsylvania are now available for free from start-up Coursera.

The company’s also signed up Stanford – where it was founded – and the University of California at Berkeley.

It’s raised $16 million in venture capital funding from Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers (KPCB) and New Enterprise Associates (NEA) for the venture.

“Higher education is ripe for innovation: it is too expensive and limited to a few,” says KPCB partner and new Coursera board member John Doerr.

“Coursera is unique in partnering with the best universities to offer free, global access to the world’s best teachers and courses. The potential is profound opportunities for personal – and economic – growth and development.”

Founded by Stanford Computer Science professors Daphne Koller and Andrew Ng, Coursera has already clocked jup more than a million enrolments.

“We see a future where world-renowned universities serve millions instead of thousands, allowing many more people to live their dreams,” says Koller.

Unlike MIT, which recently announced it was to offer free electronics courses,  Coursera will do a lot more than simply post lectures online. There’ll be a personalized ‘trajectory’ for each student, quizzes, discossions and auto-graded exercises.

“Students learn best not by passively watching video, but by thinking, practicing and doing,” says Ng. “Our education technology is developed around these concepts, and helps busy students quickly master material.”

Coursera says it plans to launch another 30 courses over the next six months; there’s more information here.