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New Leaders for MOOC Providers

March 25, 2014

The massive open online course providers Coursera and edX made competing top-level executive announcements Monday afternoon: Wendy Cebula, former COO of Vistaprint, was named president of edX, while Richard C. Levin, the former president of Yale University, will join Coursera as the company’s new CEO.

The announcements would perhaps not have surprised anyone if they were reversed. EdX, a nonprofit consortium, picked a president with private sector experience; the for-profit Coursera tapped an experienced academic as CEO.

Levin left Yale in 2013 after 20 years as president, and has since January served in an advisory role at Coursera. His arrival shifts the make-up of the MOOC provider’s leadership team. The co-founders, Daphne Koller and Andrew Ng, will become president and chairman of the board, respectively, while Lila Ibrahim, who was named president last August, will become chief business officer.

Levin brings experience not just in online education, but also in international expansion, which has been a goal for Coursera and other MOOC providers. Yale joined Coursera in the final months of Levin’s tenure. During his time as president, Levin was also a vocal advocate for Yale-NUS College, a partnership with the National University of Singapore to create an undergraduate, residential liberal arts college there. Levin serves on President Obama’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology, which late last year recommended that Congress and regional accreditors ease off on regulating MOOC providers.

A Coursera spokeswoman, speaking on background, said Ibrahim will focus on business development, Koller on partnerships and Ng on pedagogy. Levin will join in mid-April, and while his day-to-day role has yet to be specified, he will, among other activities, assist Ng with international initiatives, she said.

Anant Agarwal, founder of edX, welcomed Cebula to the organization in a blog post. He noted that Cebula grew Vistaprint, which provides marketing and promotional material, "from $1 million to over $1 billion in revenue globally" during her 13 years with the company. Cebula stepped down in 2012, and has since January 2013 served as a business adviser to the jewelry startup Gemvara, according to her Linkedin profile.

"She will help to build out and scale our operations and focus on day-to-day management," Agarwal, now edX's CEO, wrote. "This will allow me to dedicate more time to edX’s strategic direction, growth and partnerships."

 

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