‘Constant upskilling is essential’: Coursera CCO reveals pandemic has driven more women to take new courses

“It is encouraging to see women embracing e-learning to develop new skills that can help speed their return to work and promote economic mobility. We have seen women in India learning at higher rates than before the pandemic, accounting for 44% of new learners in 2021, up from 37% in 2019,” says Dr. Betty Vandenbosch, Chief Content Officer at Coursera, where she oversees business development. content and accreditation strategy and partner relations.

Coursera was started in 2012 by two Stanford computer science professors, Andrew Ng and Daphne Koller, with a mission to provide universal access to world-class learning. It is now one of the largest online learning platforms in the world, with 102 million learners registered as of March 31, 2022.

“Indian women demonstrate a balanced investment in human and digital skills. Computer programming, machine learning, probability and statistics are among the top skills, followed by business-critical skills such as communication, leadership and management,” she adds.

Top courses among female learners in India teach in-demand skills in technology, data science, personal development and business, while globally women are enrolling more in teaching courses human skills such as writing and language learning. In a conversation with ET Panache, Dr. Betty Vandenbosch, we learn about the importance of upskilling in a post-pandemic world and why India is an important player for the brand.


Do you find that the pandemic has pushed more people/women to improve?


The dual disruptions of the pandemic and automation have forever changed the way we learn and work. In 2020 alone, 30 million new learners joined the platform. Today, the demand for online learning continues to exceed pre-pandemic levels. In India, we have added over 11 million learners since January 2020 – the highest number of new learners in the world.

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The latest report on Women and Online Learning in Emerging Markets, developed in partnership with Coursera, IFC and the European Commission, shows how online education can expand job opportunities. About a third of female learners in emerging markets found a new job, started a business or improved their professional or business performance after taking online courses. The analysis also reveals that one job is created for every 30 people trained online in these countries.


What are some of the courses that are doing well that you didn’t expect?


The pandemic has taught us that no skill is underestimated. To be successful, you need to have a mix of technical and human skills. We have seen an increased demand for skills in data analysis, cloud computing and digital marketing, as well as courses that teach negotiation, communication and problem solving.

In India, it is comforting to see learners adopting this double requirement! They learn digital skills, take control of their mental health and explore their personal passions, like learning a new language. Yonsei University’s First Step Korean was one of the Top 15 Courses in 2021.

How important is it to improve?
If there’s one thing the pandemic has taught us, it’s the need to constantly upskill and retrain, stay relevant, drive innovation, and manage disruption. Skills are the new currency of the knowledge economy. Skills and jobs are changing at an unprecedented rate. Microsoft estimates that digital employment capacity will increase, creating 2.8 crore new technology jobs in India over the next three years. The twin disruptions of automation and the pandemic have further pushed the adoption of technology in business, which the World Economic Forum predicts will transform jobs, jobs and skills by 2025.

If you had to do 3 courses, which would you choose and why?
It’s delicate ! We always recommend courses that match learners’ career aspirations or passions. Whatever your career path, you can’t go wrong with these three courses. They will change the way you see life and approach problems.

AI and ML – AI is the new electricity! AI and ML have become essential skills for all professionals. Coursera co-founder Andrew Ng recently launched a machine learning specialization, updating Coursera’s first and most popular course. AI for All is also a great course to explore to gain a fundamental understanding.

Data – Data management and visualization has become a requirement for almost every job. Data helps you make better decisions and analyze performance. Foundations: Data, Data, Everywhere by Google is a great way to start building data-centric skills, and it’s in addition to Google’s Data Analytics Professional Certificate, so you can keep learning!

Welfare – The pandemic has underscored the importance of health and well-being – physical, physiological and mental. Yale’s Wellness Science is a perennial favorite — it outlines research-backed ways to increase personal happiness and establish more productive habits.

What type of course (not yet available) would you like to add to Coursera?
It’s difficult because we have over 5,000 courses. Given this, I would like to add more courses that teach learners practical life skills, instill greater confidence, and encourage them to ask more critical questions.

What areas or regions are you most interested in and what do you attribute that to?
We are seeing growing buy-in from learners in Nigeria, Mexico, Egypt, Kazakhstan, Indonesia, Bangladesh and around the world. In India, Coursera has worked to create a level playing field for learners, bridging the access gap between urban and non-urban centres. The strongest growth in India is occurring in the remote parts of the country, such as Manipur, Bihar, and the Anadaman and Nicobar Islands. Manipur recorded a 500% growth in the number of learners over two years ending in 2021, followed by Bihar, Andaman and Nicobar Islands, Kerala, Himachal Pradesh and Arunachal Pradesh.

Affordability is a key factor. Our scholarship programs benefit underrepresented communities, and particularly in India, special rates and flexible payment options have helped more learners invest in skills that improve employability.

Mobile is another powerful tool to bridge the access gap. 61% of Indian learners use mobile devices to access their learning. The percentage is even higher for non-urban centers, where more than 70% of learners in states like Nagaland, Bihar and Odisha access Coursera courses on mobile.

What motivational quote do you love?
I live by the Dutch proverb “Nee heb je, ja kun je krijgen”, which literally translates to “You have (a) no, (a) yes, you can get”. This means that being told “no” after asking for something is just as bad as never asking in the first place. The quote reminds me to explore more options, take on new challenges, venture into new areas, and perhaps most importantly, be bold.

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