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Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Coursera, an Online Education Company, Raises Another $43 Million

Coursera, a year-old company offering free online courses, has raised another $43 million in venture capital from investors active in both domestic and international education.

The new investors include the International Finance Corporation, the investment arm of the World Bank, and Laureate Education, an international higher education company with dozens of profit-making universities around the world, as well as GSV Capital, Learn Capital and Yuri Milner, an individual entrepreneur.

“We hope it’s enough money to get us to profitability,’’ said Daphne Koller, a co-founder of Coursera. “We haven’t really focused yet on when that might be.’’

Coursera, based in Mountain View, Calif., previously raised $22 million from Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers; New Enterprise Associates; and the University of Pennsylvania and California Institute of Technology, two of its university partners.

Over the next few months, Coursera plans to double its employees to about 100, and expand in several areas, including mobile apps and its Signature Track offerings, which charge a fee to students who want an identity-verified certificate upon successful completion of Coursera’s free courses. Since January, when the Signature Track option was first offered in five courses, Signature Track fees have produced more than $800,000, Ms. Koller said â€" and in the long run, she said, such revenue may be enough to make the company sustainable.

The company also plans to invest in international expansion, through localization, translation and distribution partnerships, and techniques for blended learning, in which Coursera’s online materials are used alongside classroom sessions with a professor.

“We see great potential for using some of the Coursera materials in our universities, so there is a strategic element to this investment,’’ said Douglas L. Becker, chairman and chief executive officer of Laureate. “The I.F.C. made the largest education investment they ever made in Laureate, and they’re joining us in this investment. Coursera allows us to invest in something we see as a rising technology impacting higher education, and gives us access to their content and curriculum.”

Coursera has grown with stunning speed since it began in April 2012, with four university partners. Now, the company works with 83 educational institutions on four continents, offering about 400 free college-level courses to more than four million students from every country in the world.

But after the initial burst of enthusiasm last year about massive open online courses, or MOOCs, and their potential for democratizing higher education worldwide, this year has brought some pushback. Faculty members at several institutions have expressed concern about how the courses may change higher education, how quickly university administrators signed on to work with MOOC providers, and whether the aim is more to save money than improve the quality of education.

So far, most of the students who have completed Coursera MOOCs have been college graduates, and it is still unclear how well the format will work to help students without degrees earn college credit for their online work. Coursera has recently started to market its materials for use by public universities in blended on-campus classes. Universities that use the materials will pay licensing fees, which Coursera will share with the universities that produce the courses.