It is science and technology departments that have largely pioneered the provision of free online university courses, but at the University of Virginia the business school is leading the way.

Darden’s entrepreneurship professor Ed Hess will teach an online course from January 2013, and more than 15,000 people have already signed up for it. The move follows an agreement between the University of Virginia and Coursera, which supports online courses. The agreement for the Mooc - the acronym for a massively open online course - was announced in July.

Prof Hess’s Mooc, called Grow to Greatness: Smart Growth for Private Businesses, is about job creation, specifically for small, private businesses. He will address many of the common challenges facing growing businesses by focusing on 54 companies that have survived and thrived.The course lasts five weeks and participants are expected to study for four to six hours a week.

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