12/10/2012 12:17 pm ET Updated Feb 06, 2013

How a Kid From Turkey Changed Learning

Eren Bali grew up in a small village in Turkey. "My primary school was a one-room schoolhouse where a single teacher tried her best to teach five different grades at the same time," recalls Eren. "That meant we were often left to try and learn from books on our own."

"One day my parents bought my two sisters and me a computer and Internet access for a few months." He didn't know then that it would change his life, "But once I started using the Internet, I knew I had found a new way to learn."

Bali found math forums that prepared him for the Math Olympiads. "Even though these forums were clunky and disorganized, they had a huge impact on my life." Bali won a gold medal in the National Math Olympiads in Turkey and a silver medal in the International Math Olympiads.

Yesterday Eren Bali announced that his company, Udemy, had raised another $12 million from Insight Venture Partners, with additional support from existing investors Lightbank, MHS Capital and Learn Capital (where I'm a partner).

The path from the village in Turkey to running the leading online education marketplace was not a straight line. In college Bali said he could imagine "a world where anyone could learn anything -- from any expert in the world." Bali and a co-founder created a product with Udemy's vision six years ago in Turkey. They failed.

Bali packed up and moved to San Francisco to give it another shot. It took him a while to raise money. "We learned from the challenges we faced and eventually our hard work paid off."

Udemy has compiled over 5,000 courses and has attracted about 400,000 learners. As TechCrunch noted, a quarter of its approved instructors have made at least $10,000 from selling their courses on the site -- with some even seeing six-figure earnings.

Most courses on Udemy are free; about 30 percent charge a fee with prices ranging from $20 and $200. Popular courses routinely see 500 students, a handful have more than 5,000.

With free content abounding, Udemy is thriving because learners can take the high quality courses on demand from effective instructors. Bali learned the hard way; he's making it easy for the rest of us.

Disclosure: Tom Vander Ark is CEO of Open Education Solutions and a partner at Learn Capital, a venture capital firm that invests in educational technology.