By Jeff Maggioncalda, Coursera CEO
Even before COVID-19 changed the ways we live, work, and learn, universities were facing major challenges. Almost half of the higher education institutions in the U.S. had no formal online programs in 2018, and last year, fewer than 50 percent of faculty had ever taught an online course. Meanwhile, universities struggle to expand capacity and serve more students without added investment.
The pandemic has hit us at a time when the skills gap is getting bigger. Graduates often don’t have the skills employers are looking for – just 34 percent of U.S. college students say they feel prepared to enter the workforce. New skills requirements are emerging rapidly, and the average shelf life of a learned skill is now only five years according to Deloitte. No wonder it’s so hard for educational institutions to keep up.
The pandemic is hands down, a turning point for universities, accelerating digital transformation in higher education at an unprecedented rate. Around 1.6 billion learners have been affected by school and campus closures since April: that’s 90 percent of enrolled students around the world across over 190 countries (Source: the UNESCO Institute for Statistics). Universities had to act fast and move online immediately.
COVID-19 has shone a spotlight on the need for innovation in our industry in order to fulfill the aspirations of students and equip them with job-relevant skills. It enabled us to rethink the curriculum universities offer to students and how relevant it is to the current or future job market.
2020 Coursera for Campus Anniversary Event: Building the University of the Future
Coursera recently hosted a global virtual event, bringing together university and college leaders for an important update about the state of online learning. The dynamic discussion featured education leaders from around the globe who gave us unique insights into how they have embraced a new era of online learning. You can watch the recording of the virtual conference here.
Read on for the main insights from the fireside chat with Professor Anju Seth (Director of the Indian Institute of Management in Calcutta) on the digital disruption of higher education, the panel discussion in which international academic leaders shared how they are driving innovations in teaching and learning, and our keynote on how universities, companies, and governments are collaborating with Coursera to serve learners around the world.
Fireside Chat: The Digital Transformation of Higher education
As a highlight of the conference, Professor Anju Seth, Director of the Indian Institute of Management (IIM) Calcutta, joined us for a fascinating fireside chat about how technology is disrupting higher education and the need for governments, institutions, and industry to collaborate in order to bridge the digital divide, which highlights the unequal access to devices and reliable internet connectivity.
IIM Calcutta, the oldest business school in India, is one of the country’s pioneers in blended learning. “We offered courses online, and our faculty members delivered them from studios across cities in India, and then the students would come in for a short campus experience,” Professor Seth explained.
One major trend she’s seeing is the move to asynchronous learning. “We need to go beyond teaching skills and concepts and equip our students to be even more flexible than they are now for their future careers. Learning how to learn is really important. COVID has taught us that it’s critical to be resilient, to be able to cope with uncertainty and reskill to take on – and provide leadership for – any new challenges.”
In the post-COVID landscape, new online education models will emerge. Professor Seth believes that customized, on-demand learning will become much more common. This includes the modularity and stackability of credentials that can count towards a degree. Learners will also be able to pick specific skills to get an overview of a topic, even if they don’t need it on a day-to-day basis.
Bridging the digital divide with policies and partnerships
As universities are increasingly turning to remote learning, the issue of the digital divide is more real than ever. Technology can deepen this digital divide but at the same time facilitate collaboration between governments, educational institutions, and industry to provide easier access. Government guidelines will change. Professor Seth is a big fan of the Indian government’s new National Education Policy, for example, which focuses on learner-centered education.
“It encourages exactly the kinds of skill sets and vertical thinking, problem-solving capabilities that we as educators have traditionally considered to be really important,” she explained. “The guidelines are astounding, but it’s up to the universities to figure out how we can best leverage these partnerships to develop our educational courses and certificates more effectively. Partnerships are really important to create synergies across our specialized knowledge.”
Also, education is globalizing at a faster pace than ever before. As students can study anytime, anywhere, an institution’s capacity to serve more students grows significantly. IIM Calcutta believes that its specialist programs will be valuable to learners outside its immediate reach and hopes to partner with international institutions on collaborative courses. However, to be able to provide high-quality education around the country and even the globe to students who may not be able to afford it, universities need to create a low-cost model.
In the future, online learning will enable universities to develop an on-going relationship with students. It will be more than just a four-year transaction. Lifelong learning will be a game-changer.
Panel Discussion: Building the University of the Future
With the structural changes in higher education due to the effects of COVID-19 accelerating at an unprecedented rate, education leaders have had to re-think what the university of the future looks like. As part of the Coursera for Campus global conference, a panel of experts shared how they have successfully embraced a new vision and implemented a path that takes them into a new era of teaching and learning.
Here is a summary of the key takeaways:
Blended learning during and beyond COVID-19
Many universities have started complementing Coursera’s online courses with content developed by their own faculty. The Indian Institute of Management in Udaipur, for example, quickly realized the potential of blended learning for its relatively small student base.
“We still see face-to-face learning as core, but we identified several ways we can improve the quality of learning for our students,” said director Janat Shah. “For instance, we can offer personalized learning and even continue to engage with students who are not on campus, like during internships, and introduce lifelong learning to alumni. By partnering with Coursera we can also lower the cost of education and expand access to the number of people who can get degrees from our institution.”
To ensure academic staff doesn’t feel threatened by bringing in courses from outside, Dr. Edward Roekaert Embrechts, rector of Universidad Peruana de Ciencias Aplicadas (UPC) in Peru, which has over 50,000 students, recommends really engaging faculty.
“They have to buy into it,” he explained. “They have to understand what we gain by participating in a project like Coursera for Campus and how we can enhance our value proposition to our students, improve their graduation profile, and get them ready for the job market. As we usually teach in Spanish, the English content will also enhance their bilingual profile and provide them with a global perspective.“
Supporting students through a richer learning experience
Boise State University in Idaho, meanwhile, uses Coursera as the online course backbone offered to students who opted to take a gap year. “COVID unsettled a lot of students who were asking themselves if this was the right time to step into higher education,” pointed out Gordon Jones, founding dean of the College of Innovation and Design.
“So we very quickly set up a gap year program and assigned a faculty member, a peer mentor, a career counselor, and an academic counselor around selected job-relevant Coursera courses. The blended learning proved to be a retention tool for our students, especially those in danger of dropping out. All of a sudden, we could offer them a much more customized experience.”
The pandemic helped higher education institutions see how much students could actually learn without being on campus. The flexible and varied approach to remote learning proved to be very popular.
“One of my students said that Coursera for Campus, especially the peer-review assignments, helped her learn from others’ mistakes and understand what she might have done wrong herself,” revealed Dr. Ada Sonia Peter, Director, International Office, and Linkages, at Covenant University in Nigeria.
However, it also takes some adjustment. When students are on campus, they’re fully concentrated on the academic processes, but during COVID, they also have to juggle home demands. Helen Ward, professor of public health at the Imperial College in London, advised offering personal support to students.
“When COVID hit, Coursera for Campus helped us shift our campus-based students to remote teaching, but many felt very isolated,” she explained. “We shouldn’t take for granted that all students find this an easy and obvious way of learning. Students need to learn how to learn online, and we need to support them through the challenges they’re facing.”
Teaching the skills of the future through global collaboration
Ward also pointed out that collaboration with global industry partners can help institutions target the areas where there are real skills gaps.
“We need a collaborative plan to fill that gap in the workforce with the right skills, knowledge, and networks,” she urged. “We need to have more structured partnerships, recognize each other’s credit systems, and share some content for our degrees under a mutual licensing system. The model needs to be sustainable, and a massive platform like Coursera that has so many universities involved could help us do that. We need to build bridges between Coursera for Campus and governments, which should be investing in this, so it’s also accessible for students who can’t afford high fees.”
One Year of Coursera for Campus
At Coursera, it’s our goal to help universities prepare their students for their future careers. We integrate the skill sets that real employers require to make it easier for students to understand what’s needed to make them employable. That’s why a year ago, we launched Coursera for Campus. The online learning platform for universities and colleges provides over 4,200 job-relevant courses and credentials to students, alumni, faculty, and staff.
In March, we reacted to these unprecedented global developments. In cooperation with our 150+ university partners, we launched the Coursera Campus Response Initiative, offering any college or university impacted by COVID-19 free access to our course catalog. We now have more than 3,700 universities that use Coursera for Campus around the globe. Over 2.4 million students have enrolled in more than 20 million courses through the Coursera Campus Response Initiative – and a remarkable 70 percent of these students access online learning with a mobile device.
The courses we create with our university partners, which focus on the theory and the concepts behind cutting-edge techniques, complement our Guided Projects’ hands-on learning approach. So far, over 1.5 million learners have enrolled, especially students. The most popular topics include building a portfolio website with HTML and CSS and primers into project management, Python, and SQL. Our catalog is growing fast, and by the end of 2020, there will be 1,000 Guided Projects on our platform. It’s proven to be a crucial part of the puzzle for effectively taking teaching and learning online.
For details on the next phase of Coursera for Campus and the latest enhancements, check out our blog post on our new free pricing options and academic integrity upgrades.
A New Model for Higher Education
Students need skills-based, hands-on education to learn and apply job-relevant, future skills in today’s fast-changing environment. They need scalable digital-first experiences that are accessible, online and offline, bridge the digital divide, drive learning outcomes, and meet the academic integrity of on-campus learning.
We believe that universities will need to deliver a blended learning experience with credit-bearing capabilities (combining coursework with online courses), supplement the curriculum, and closely align it with the modern workforce’s requirements to help jumpstart students’ careers. Leading public and private institutions worldwide will increasingly need to collaborate with one another and serve a more global student base.
At Coursera, we’re excited to be part of this emerging vision for higher education. We’re facilitating access to learning, global collaboration, and professional development for faculty and staff, which puts us on a path into a new era of teaching and learning, transformed by technology. Together, we can build the university of the future.
To find out more about just how we can do this and hear first-hand accounts on the innovations shaping higher education, watch our global Coursera for Campus conference.