Udacity educational support specialists Rachel Meltzer and Paul Montgomery provide online university-level tutoring at the Udacity office in Mountain View, California.

Ann Hermes | The Christian Science Monitor | Getty Images

Udacity educational support specialists Rachel Meltzer and Paul Montgomery provide online university-level tutoring at the Udacity office in Mountain View, California.

Now a range of start-ups are trying to help train the next generation of workers, transforming education from a onetime event into a lifelong process. Two Disruptor 50 companies are leading the charge: Coursera and Udacity.

“Many jobs requiring middle- or high-level skills go vacant, even while many people are unemployed or underemployed,” says Rick Levin, CEO of online education company Coursera, which has raised $146 million from venture backers. “We think there’s a real opportunity [for Coursera] by giving people the opportunity to acquire new and better skills in computer-related fields, in data science and across the range of business skills and even soft skills.”

Coursera is partnered with 150 universities around the world, bringing a broad range of 2,000 classes to 25 million students on its platform right now, offering professional certificates to mid-career adults looking for better jobs. Levin says most of its “learners” are college graduates. “Think about all the people who take a liberal arts major who then find, Oh, if I only knew how to do a little bit more coding, I’d be a more attractive candidate, or if I knew something about data analytics then I could actually get this job in a finance department of an organization.”

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