SAN FRANCISCO—In a little less than 4 years after massive online course company Coursera’s existence, what began in a Stanford University classroom of 400 students has become a global classroom of 100,000, with 16 billion total course enrollments.

“We envision a world where anyone, anywhere can transform their life by accessing the world’s best learning experience,” said Daphne Koller, PhD, said, in delivering the 2015 ACR/AHRP Annual Meeting Opening Lecture. “The impact in the real world can be quite significant and inspiring.”

That’s how Scott Plous, a professor in the department of psychology at Wesleyan University came to teach 250,000 students simultaneously, the single largest Coursera class enrollment to date. The social psychology course offered a grand prize to the student who embraced one of the requirements, a day spent in compassion. The winner, Balesh Jindal, MD, worked with girls and women in India to combat the violence that is unfortunately endemic to that culture, said Dr. Koller, the Rajeev Motwani Professor in the Computer Science Department at Stanford University.

The implications for education—more specifically, the process of learning—are enormous. This is relevant when one considers that 91% of millennials change jobs in less than 3 years, and new jobs often require new skills. Consider, too, that 65% of tomorrow’s job don’t exist, Dr. Koller said, and that “58% of employers worldwide believe that new college grads are inadequately prepared for work.”

Coursera represents a “new pedagogy,” she explained, requiring instructors to “rethink the pedagogy from scratch.” Called the “flipped classroom” or “blended learning,” this approach does not simply broadcast classroom lectures, but presents modular videos created especially for online consumption. Immediate feedback enables “mastery learning,” with innovative, hands-on assignments and peers providing assessments of open-ended work. Experiential learning, such as an 8-week design course offered by Wharton, provides students with 40 individual pieces of feedback; some actually created the products they designed.

Coursera data are showing that the immediate feedback provided to instructors—for example, that 80% of students are answering a question incorrectly—helps demonstrate whether their teaching is effective. This leads them not only to improve their online instruction but their on-campus teaching. Data have also shown that with blended learning, 25% of those failing classes using traditional teaching methods “are no longer failing,” she noted.

In some cases, students learn from one another. For example, half of the participants in a 5-week Johns Hopkins School of Nursing course on “The Science of Safety in Healthcare” were self-described “victims” of medical errors, opening “one’s mind to a very different set of perspectives,” she said.

Currently, Coursera partners with 136 institutions worldwide, with 100-plus instructors offering more than 1400 courses across a range of disciplines. After North America (home to 31% of Coursera students), learners come from Europe (27%), Asia (27%), Latin America (9%), Africa (4%), and Oceania (2%), with a total of 38% overall coming from emerging economies. A total of 43.4% are 25 to 34 years of age; 54.9% are employed full-time; and 76.5% have a bachelor’s or graduate degree. Learner motivations include those who are college-focused or seeking to build career skills or for enrichment.

“Is it helping,” Dr. Koller asked, introducing a recent survey of Coursera learners. “Yes, it does help—and the numbers are quite striking.” Eighty-seven percent of learners said they were helped, and 33% reported their benefits to be “tangible,” such as a promotion, raise in salary, or the opportunity to start a new business.

What began as an experiment is indeed changing lives worldwide.