Coursera’s Daphne Koller

tedDaphne Koller, co-founder of Coursera, has sold me that she has some awesome approaches to making the world a better place for all of us. Her TED talk won me over for many reasons.

Just watch it, just F do it.

She defends mass learning the way I used to fight for eLearning. Our opponents hurl brickbats that inevitably begin with “How can you prove your stuff is any good?” With eLearning, I’d explain to the professor that he was unaffordable but personal treatment by Ivy-League professors does not scale. I’ll retort by asking them why on earth they thought drafty classrooms in Cambridge were superior to anytime, anywhere, oh-so-convenient online means. And the Department of Education found that, if anything, online learning is sometimes more effective than the classroom experience.

People who haven’t seen the light would do well to read Clayton Christensen’s books on the Innovator’s Dilemma. It’s clear that the faculties of Stanford and MIT understand it. MOOCs have all the hallmarks of disruptive innovation. Cheap. Game-changing. Decried by the existing market leaders as junk. Puts the old model out of business in a matter of years. In a flash, the recently unthinkable becomes the new reality.

Watch Daphne.


The stats she brings up are right-on. I’ve wondered why the instructional design community forgets this stuff so easily.

2-sigma problem

People who receive individualized tutoring learn 50x better (and the machine might be the tutor next time.)




Retrieval practice more than doubles retention.


active learning

Active learning is 20%-30% more effective than passive learning.

Coursera purports to provide personalized active learning with retrieval practice built in. Multiply these effects and you can envision Coursera approaching its goal of providing the best quality education, worldwide, for free.

Key concepts: scale, 640K students, real course experience, break up monolithic lectures, social community, local community, personalization.