Rick Levin Goes Virtual

Rick Levin is moving from the world of ivy-covered classrooms to digitized, online learning.

Levin, who retired last year after serving for 20 years as Yale’s president (the video is from a pre-retirement interview), has taken a new job as CEO of Coursera, a purveyor of online college courses. The company announced the appointment Monday.

Levin, who’s 66, starts work in mid-April, according to this press release issued by the Mountain View, California, company.

(Click here and here to read other news stories about the announcement.)

The move has an historical precedent: Another former Yale president took a job with a different education-experimentation group after leaving New Haven. That president, Benno Schmidt, was lured to run a for-profit school network being developed by entrepreneur Chris Whittle. That move ended badly; the company, Edison Schools, flopped. Subsequently Schmidt and Whittle hatched plans to pursue a new way to educate the wealthiest, most elite children.

Coursera, Levin’s new employer, on the other hand, has a different mission: making courses from more than 100 universities (including Yale) available to people worldwide for free. Two Stanford computer science profs started the company in 2012.

More than 7 million people visit more than 600 courses offered online by Coursera, according to the company.

As Yale president, Levin oversaw experiments in putting courses online for free. Since retirement, he has been advising the people at Coursera.

Here’s what he said about his new mission, according to the Coursera release:

“Technology now gives us the means to extend the reach of high quality education around the world and to provide millions of people with access to learning and opportunities for advancement. Coursera is at the front of this effort, with a stellar team, a remarkable growth trajectory, and a purpose that is an unmitigated public good.”

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