This week marks the fifth anniversary of the official start of the MOOC movement: on August 16, 2011, a group of us at Stanford University announced our intent to offer the first three MOOCs. In a matter of weeks, to our surprise, each of these courses had an enrollment of 100,000 learners or more – many more than the number of students any of us could teach in an entire career as a professor. And it wasn’t just the numbers: unlike our Stanford students, these online learners came from every age group, every country, and every walk of life.
It was clear that we had an amazing opportunity to help millions of people around the world get access to a great education. This was not an opportunity that we could walk away from. So I put my research on hold and set off, together with my colleague and co-founder Andrew Ng and a small but amazing team, to form Coursera.
The last five years have been a remarkable validation of this vision. Over 145 of the world’s best learning institutions now offer over 1300 courses on our platform, reaching over 20 million registered learners. As we recently showed, tens or even hundreds of thousands of learners have benefited from these courses by getting a better, higher-paying job, or by starting their own business.
With this important initiative well on its way to success, it is time for me to turn to another critical challenge – the development of machine learning and its application to improving human health. This field has been a passion of mine since 2001, when I first started working on it at Stanford. Machine learning is now in the midst of an important transformation, as a variety of high-throughput technologies developed over the past decade are providing unprecedented amounts of data that, when combined with the right analytic methods, can enable novel insights and the development of new therapies for human disease.
I feel compelled to contribute to this important effort, which leverages my background and experience both at Stanford and at Coursera. Therefore, starting next week, I will be joining Calico as their Chief Computing Officer. Calico, an Alphabet company, is focused on understanding the process of aging and on developing interventions that enable people to live longer, healthier lives. At Calico, I will work on the development of new computational methods for analyzing biological data sets, to help move to achieving these important scientific and societal goals.
As I turn the bulk of my attention to this new challenge, I can do so knowing that Coursera has matured into a robust company with amazing forward momentum. Over the last three years, we have put in place a strong leadership team that includes Rick Levin, Tom Willerer, Lila Ibrahim, Kurt Apen, David Liu, Amber Tennant, Julia Stiglitz, and, most recently, Leah Belsky, Nikhil Sinha, and Deanna Raineri. We have also hired a diverse, vibrant, and incredibly talented group of employees, and together, we’ve made great strides toward optimizing our product experience, strengthening our university and industry partnerships, and much more.
With this foundation and energy, Coursera will continue to move towards our vision of a world where anyone, anywhere can transform their life via education. I am privileged to have had the opportunity to help build an enterprise as significant as Coursera. I will continue to stay engaged, and to help Coursera thrive, in my new role as Co-Chair of the Board.
To everyone who has come to be part of the Coursera community as a learner, a partner, an employee or a supporter – I thank you for being on this journey with us.
Co-Founder of Coursera