Partnering govts to help people get reskilled: Coursera's Raghav Gupta

Topics coursera | online courses | Lockdown

In India alone, comparing the past 30 days (as of May 11) with the same period one year ago, new registrations have risen by 953% and overall enrollments by 1,461%, says Raghav Gupta, on increase in activity post lockdown.
The non-stop overload of information, disinformation, memes, jokes, videos and webinars on the Covid-19 pandemic on every mobile device and gadget around the world would make anyone think everyone was up to their ears with the subject. Well, perish the thought.

On February 18, a bit ahead of when it caught collective global attention, online education giant Coursera launched a free course "Science Matters: Let's Talk About COVID-19" curated by Imperial College London on its platform. Since then, 105,000 (12,800 in India) have enrolled for it globally, making it the most popular course on the site in 2020.

The course that is being updated as the weeks go by is seeing a lot of traction, as people, it appears, want to go beyond the news on the pandemic. The course got other institutions thinking, and now there are seven courses on the site (two are free, a certificate of completion for the others attracts a small fee) for those wanting to know more than what their mobile devices bombard them with daily. The University of Toronto is offering a course on mind control and managing one's mental health during the crisis, a concern for many during this peculiar and incomprehensible phase.

In general, personal development and health are grabbing eyeballs across the globe. Yale University's Science of Well Being has seen a surge in enrollments post pandemic with 1.6 million enrolling in 2020 alone. Although Coursera is seeing a surge in the number of users across its 11 content domains, personal development and health are witnessing the biggest spikes. With 59 million registered users (company claims) globally and 7 million in India, Coursera is among the most popular online learning platforms and one of the few businesses that's seen explosive growth since the pandemic led the world to shut down till further notice.

Raghav Gupta, managing director for India and APAC region for the platform, spoke to Anjuli Bhargava on the latest trends, initiatives and the fallout of the pandemic. Edited excerpts:

The pandemic has led to unprecedented global job losses. What are some of the trends you are seeing on this front on your platform?

One of the first things we did in response to the pandemic is launched Coursera for Workforce Recovery. In many countries people are getting laid off, and we are partnering with governments in certain countries to help those who have got laid off get reskilled as certain careers may not be easy to go back to. A certain set of Coursera courses are being made available free for the rest of this year, and the governments that have more specific and clear data are in certain instances providing the details of such courses to those laid off in their countries. The idea is to help them get back on their feet again.

What about companies that offer content on the platform?

Over the last two years, we felt there was a need for more job-oriented content and started partnering with companies. For example, one of Google's product platforms is Google Cloud Platform (GCP). Many are interested in working for it so Google creates a course hosted on Coursera that enables anyone interested to learn about Google Cloud. Or say BCG says many businesses are undergoing digital transformation and here's a course curated by us for those interested in learning more about it. We currently have 40 companies mostly in the tech space offering such content including Google, AWS, PwC, BCG, Autodesk and ATLASSIAN, among others.

What kind of activity are you seeing on the platform in general since the lockdown?

Since the spread of Covid-19, we have seen change across several key Coursera metrics. Along with a spike in the number of learners, content consumption has also widened.

In India alone, comparing the past 30 days (as of May 11) with the same period one year ago, new registrations have risen by 953% and overall enrollments by 1,461% - this typically includes users who are already registered but have come back to try something new. We have also seen enrollment in public health content see a 3,406% increase, an indication of how concerned people are in the backdrop of the outbreak.

In India, so far we had only two university partners - The Indian School of Business and IIM Kolkata — providing their content online through our platform.

During the pandemic, we made our courses free (from March 12), we have received requests from 1,720 unique universities across India, of which 730 programmes have been launched, to allow access to our courses to their students. For the university, completing the entire syllabus and curriculum online may be a challenge so they select specific courses than align with their syllabi on Coursera. We create an interface for the institution on Coursera and the students enrolled in the university can go directly on the platform and do the courses selected by their professors and college. The college in question may be providing some direct classes through Zoom or some other platform, but has asked students to complete these courses and can track their progress too.

To cite an example, the Symbiosis Institute of Technology may choose certain courses available on Coursera that they feel their students may benefit from. We create an interface for students of this university on our platform, and the university provides access to all its 2,000 students who may be doing a specific course. We got thousands of requests and have 2,770 programmes have now been activated across hundreds of campuses. Some of the new universities we are working with - who are content consumers - include Symbiosis Institute of Technology, World University of Design, BML Munjal University, National Rail and Transportation Institute, NMAM Institute of Technology, University of Engineering & Management, Jaipur to name a few.

To what extent do you see this translating into behavioural change?

If I am an MBA student studying marketing, universities are asking their students to take two courses on Coursera to supplement or even substitute their on campus delivery.

Even before the lockdown, many universities had started including some online learning. 80-90 per cent may be on campus, but for subjects that may be technologically very advanced or constantly being upgraded. In many of these subjects, the faculty on ground cannot deliver.

Say an MBA student who is keen on banking may need to understand blockchain or say an engineering student may need to data science, this was already happening on our platform. A Manipal university, a Shiv Nadar university or Symbiosis may ask their students to get an additional certificate or skill through our courses. Now with campuses shut, some universities may be holding 50-80 per cent of their classes through Zoom and other platforms directly, but some are supp-lementing their curriculums through Coursera.

We expect as these institutions and students experience the high quality of courses and faculty available through our content providers, they will be converted into long-term relationships and partnerships. Students who try it out may remain with us even later. A lot of the content is high quality, coming from some of the best universities that may otherwise be elusive for these learners.

A lot of the increase is due to the courses being made available for free. But this is like a forced trial. Many new users have expressed surprise at the quality on offer. So, in general, even after campuses reopen, we expect to see acceleration. What may have taken five years may happen in two or even one year. We expect this at an individual level too. The 7 million Indian users could double or even triple sooner than we anticipated. At the end of the day, the learning experience will speak for itself.

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