Udemy’s Faculty Project nabs 50,000 students and an Ivy league professor

About six weeks ago, educational video startup Udemy launched its Faculty Project, a nonprofit program for distributing streaming university curriculum online. Early results have been pretty successful, with more than 50,000 students signing up for the program. But that’s not all: the Faculty Project is also bringing on ever more prestigious faculty, with its first Ivy League professor soon coming on board.

In contrast to Udemy’s for-profit platform, which enables teachers to create online courses and charges for access to them, the Faculty Project is a free offering that is designed to connect students from around the world with university faculty for high-quality courses online.

Udemy co-founder Gagan Biyani told me by phone that the goal of the Faculty Project is to help democratize learning online. “We believe that in the next few years, you’ll be able to learn anything for free on the Internet,” he said. “We want to facilitate that and make it happen.”

Until recently, however, the costs associated with bringing university courses online made it prohibitively expensive for many schools to do so. Udemy is trying to offer a low-cost alternative to webcasting options that cost educational organizations tens of thousands of dollars to set up.

Faculty Project Director Tim Parks has been reaching out to professors directly, trying to get faculty signed up to participate and begin producing courses online that can be accessed by anyone in the world for free. The program also provides participating professors with a video camera and provides support for getting on board and developing their video-focused courses.

The curriculum at the Faculty Project is still very limited, with about a dozen courses online today. But it already has an impressive list of schools represented by participating professors, including Colgate, Dartmouth, Duke, Northwestern, USC and Vanderbilt. But it recently signed up its first Ivy League professor, with Thomas Pogge, Director of the Global Justice Program and the Leitner Professor of Philosophy and International Affairs at Yale University, teaching a course on Global Justice.

The program is also leading to some discussions with universities to launch more formalized courses for their professors. The Darden School of Business at the University of Virginia and the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern are both talking to Udemy about leveraging its platform beyond just some one-off courses that their professors have made available on the Faculty Project.

In the meantime, students keep signing up — Udemy now counts 50,000 signed up through the Faculty Project and its for-profit platform. That, Biyani notes, is more than any public university in California — and after just six weeks of launching to the public.