All-you-can-learn for $29 a month

An online-education startup aims for a whole new class of teachers and students - including you.

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EduFire founder Jon Bischke

(Fortune Small Business) -- The Internet is making the world of learning smarter -- and more profitable.

Students who took online courses scored an average 10% higher on tests than peers who received extra instruction face-to-face, according to a recent report by the U.S. Department of Education that analyzed more than 1,000 studies conducted from 1996 through 2008. That's good news for eduFire, a San Francisco firm that provides Internet-based tutoring for entrepreneurs as well as students.

Founded in 2007 by serial entrepreneur Jon Bischke, eduFire offers low-cost live lessons via videoconferences and text chats. There are up to 200 classes per day, covering everything from conversational Spanish to the history of Iran. Students with similar interests can video- and text-chat for free. That, Bischke and his five employees say, is where much of the learning happens.

In September eduFire launched its Business Channel, featuring several courses in entrepreneurship. Sample classes include 10 Things You Need to Build a Great Company, by e-learning expert Mark Dowds, and former Google (GOOG, Fortune 500) manager Niniane Wang's How to Rock an Engineering Interview. EduFire has attracted more than 50,000 registered users so far. Sign up is free; members who choose to take classes can pay per class or pay $29 a month for unlimited access. About 10,000 users have take a class in 2009.

Bischke knows he needs to bring more teachers to the service.

"This model flips education on its head," Bischke says. "Most brick-and-mortar colleges and universities pay teachers only 15% of all revenues. We're giving ours 85%."

Online education can't fully replace in-person learning. "It's not a silver bullet," says Barbara Means, who led the DOE study.

But Bischke says his marketplace of courses will open the door to a whole range of experts who never considered themselves educators. He remembers his fifth-grade teacher, Mr. Haughland, a notoriously tough grader who gave him an A+. Bishke's aim: to create a new generation of Mr. Haughlands.

Correction: An earlier version of this article said that eduFire had 50,000 paying subscribers. Fortune Small Business regrets the error.  To top of page

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