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The Smart Money Getting Smarter

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Venture capitalists have plunked $15 million into Udacity, the free online university that Kevin Charles Redmon told us about in May. (And our John Gravois noted the influx of angels investing in higher education technology companies in August.)

The firms of Andreesen Horowitz and Charles River Ventures and entrepreneur Steven Blank led this round of financing. Udacity says with this money it’s raised $21.1 million so far this year. The new money will be used “to further build out interactive course architecture, including adding new environments for programming and scaling course and student analytics.”

For a quick primer on Udacity, let’s turn to Redmon:

Udacity is a free university (of sorts) that offers “massive open online courses”—or, MOOCs—to anyone with a decent Internet connection and a little self-discipline. Founded by Stanford roboticist Sebastian Thrun—of the self-driving car fame—Udacity’s first class offerings appeared this February. The way Thrun tells it, he resigned his tenure at Stanford and lit out for the MOOC territory after realizing that his same artificial intelligence course could reach 200 students in an ivied lecture hall, or 160,000 online. The technology that makes this possible—like quizzes that can be graded by robots rather than TAs—is fairly rudimentary and has existed for some time. Missing, until now, were MOOC evangelists: professors who were willing to adapt their material for the masses.

Evangelism seems to be a theme for the latest investors. Andreesen Horowitz’s Steven Levine has joined Udacity’s board, and in a blog post the MIT and Stanford professor waxes rhapsodic about the disruptive opportunity Udacity – “a team and company that we’re absolutely convinced will change the world”—represents.

By leveraging the economics of the Internet, Udacity aims to democratize education by delivering world-class coursework to hundreds of thousands of students everywhere. There’s no doubt that online learning will radically shift the economics of education.  Udacity has the magic formula because they are combining their platform with their content to make learning highly interactive, targeted and instantly available to students around the world. …

There is no question in my mind that the work being done today, to leverage software to improve education, will result in a better tomorrow for people all around the world.