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What if anyone around the world could learn from the best instructors, for free?

Daphne Koller, educator, speaks during Session 3: Building Blocks, at TEDGlobal 2012 on Tuesday, June 26, in Edinburgh, Scotland.

James Duncan Davidson/James Duncan Davidson

Daphne Koller is dramatically transforming the face of higher education, and she's doing it through technology.

Dr. Koller, a professor at Stanford University, is also the co-founder of Coursera, a major U.S. initiative that offers open online courses for free to anyone in the world, from some of the best instructors in top institutions. The program has about 1.25-million enrolments, proof that students want more out of their university education than simply attending lectures.

"With the technologies that are now available, there is an opportunity to remarkably enhance the traditional lecture experience," Dr. Koller said.

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Coursera holds plenty of appeal for older learners and those in remote locations around the world. And traditional undergraduates can build on what they are currently learning with courses that their university does not offer.

Students log in to Coursera, and have lecture modules every week and homework assignments that are graded for free either by their peers or through Coursera's online program. For those who argue that there's no substitute for face-to-face interaction, it turns out that students who take these courses self-organize into small online groups to work together. At the end of the course, students receive a certificate if they have mastered the material.

Coursera's success is evidence of the exploding interest in open online courses. More than two dozen universities, including the University of Toronto, offer courses through the online program. For Dr. Koller, it is about not denying anyone the opportunity to learn in a global economy.

"I would like to make it so that education was a right, and not a privilege. [So that] anyone around the world who felt the wish to learn ... that opportunity would be there for anyone, at any time, regardless of their geographic, financial or social circumstances."

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