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Meet the Web's favorite finance professor

April 12, 2014: 9:00 AM ET
Gautam Kaul hasn't won a Nobel Prize. But the Michigan finance professor is a bigger online phenomenon than Robert Shiller.

Gautam Kaul hasn't won a Nobel Prize. But the Michigan finance professor is a bigger online phenom than Robert Shiller.

When Gautam Kaul speaks, hundreds of thousands of people listen.

Kaul, a professor of finance at the University of Michigan's Ross School of Business, has become an Internet sensation.

His classes are by far and away the most popular finance and economics offerings on Coursera, a free site where people can take college courses.

Judging by course enrollment, Kaul is in more demand than Nobel laureate Robert Shiller, a Yale professor who wrote Irrational Exuberance and created the well-known Case-Shiller housing index, among other financial tools and instruments.

So what's Kaul's secret?

He makes finance fun.

"Finance is the most awesome thing created by humanity," Kaul says in the minute-long promo video for his Introduction to Finance class on the Coursera website.

He compares learning finance to riding a bike or swimming: it's a life skill, and once you know it, you'll never forget the basics.

Students give him a 4+ (out of 5) on Ratemyprofessors.com with many saying he makes finance accessible. A Facebook fan page for Kaul's class has close to 20,000 likes.

That's not bad for someone who teaches about compound interest, bonds and other stuff that can often make eyes glaze over.

"The biggest compliment I get is 'I thought I knew finance until I took your class,'" Kaul told CNNMoney.

In each of the short course videos he tries to weave in real world examples and show students that finance is part of everything – not just Wall Street.

Kaul, an immigrant from India with a PhD from the University of Chicago, has a contagious energy. He was one of the first to offer financial classes when Coursera started in 2012.

He said he was stunned when close to 130,000 people signed up. He's offered the class several times since and still gets over 80,000 students each session even though there are many more options now available on the site.

While teaching online will never quite match being in a physical classroom, Kaul has embraced the opportunity to reach more people. He sees himself as a sort of financial evangelist.

"Finance is awesome," he said. "If you're not interested in finance, there's something wrong with you."

Kaul's next Introduction to Finance class begins on June 2 on Coursera. Students who complete the course and assessments receive a certificate.

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Heather Long
Heather Long
Markets & Investing Editor, CNNMoney

Heather Long is markets and investing editor for CNNMoney. She was formerly an assistant editor at The Guardian and an editor at The Patriot-News, which won the 2012 Pulitzer Prize for Local Reporting. She started her career at the investment consulting firm Cambridge Associates and is a Rhodes Scholar. Follow her on Twitter @byHeatherLong

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