Online degrees and certifications are nothing new. They come in a garden variety, often water-downed versions of their original promise, or unable to carry their weight under scrutiny from potential recruiters, leaving license and degree holders disappointed, at a loss.
Coursera, a global online learning platform founded in 2012 by Stanford University computer science professors, gains its polished reputation and credibility from the who’s who of universities and partners who design their online courses, certifications, and degrees in a variety of subjects.
“Over 160 universities and 60 industry partners have authored 5000 of the courses we offer in specialties like business, technology, and data science, helping individuals and institutions like the Abu Dhabi School of government upscale and rescale,” Coursera CEO, Jeff Maggioncalda told AMEinfo from his California headquarters.
During our interview, Jeff described the inner workings of Coursera as a way to leverage a successful career, quickly, and inexpensively.
Using key insights on performance data from over 77 million learners in more than 100 countries since the onset of the pandemic, Jeff also revealed how the UAE excelled in certain key business skills and fell short on others.
The UAE is a perfect place to start on the way to uncovering the hidden gems behind Coursera.
UAE’s business skills
Coursera’s Global Skills Report 2021 revealed that the UAE ranks #1 in the MENA region and #2 globally in overall business skills.
Communication, Entrepreneurship, Leadership and Management, and Strategy and Operations are areas where UAE learners have placed within the top 97 percentile or higher in business skills.
Not so much though on technology and data science skills which represent areas for continued growth as the UAE ranked just #72 and #71 respectively globally.
When the report was published, Anthony Tattersall, Coursera Vice President of EMEA said: “When it comes to technology and data science skills, access to a variety of job-relevant credentials, including a path to entry-level digital jobs, will be key to help reskill at scale, not just in the UAE but worldwide”.
UAE learners have demonstrated strong capabilities in the highly-valued area of Data Analysis (82%).
The UAE ranked in the 77 percentile in Security Engineering reflecting robust know-how on the back of the country witnessing a 250% increase in cyberattacks through the pandemic.
“We have about 440 thousand learners in the UAE, and about 4.2 million in the MENA,” Jeff said.
“The numbers only reflect the performance of learners on Coursera and their responses to more than 400,000 assessment questions and over 5,000 courses.”
These are people who have an IP address coming from the UAE, not necessarily Emiratis, though many are in the Abu Dhabi school of government, and whose average age is 33 compared to 28 from the MENA, and where females represent 43% of the total in 2020.
Closing the learners’ gender gap in the UAE
Enrolment in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) courses by women in the UAE. rose from 33% in 2018-19 to 41% in 2019-20.
“This is a really great increase in female representation on Coursera in the UAE,” Jeff indicated.
He mentioned a World Economic Forum global gender gap report released in 2021 which said the UAE climbed 48 places in the global gender gap index last year from 120th to 72nd, as more UAE women learned online.
Jeff acknowledged this as a global trend.
“Our stats show women’s share of enrolment in STEM rose from 31% in 2019 to 38% in 2020.”
Coursera’s modus operandi
Coursera went public on March 31, 2021, and currently has over 82 million individuals enrolled and registered as learners, a very large B2C model, continuously expanding its original concept.
“About 6 years ago, we launched Coursera for Business as many companies took to reskilling employees, regardless of age or the stage in their careers, because there is always new tech like the cloud, AI, data science, IoT, Blockchain, etc. that are being introduced,” Jeff explained.
“Our industry partners like Google, Microsoft, IBM, Facebook, and others are the ones building all these courses, just as universities build theirs, on our platform.”
A year later, the company launched Coursera for Government, and in 2019 it launched Coursera for Campus, a version of Coursera for any university in the world to offer online learning to their students.
“Our university partners have authored many single online courses that you can take and get a certificate in, not a degree,” Jeff said, adding “But we have about 17 university partners actually putting full online degrees, bachelor’s and master’s, that get delivered on Coursera.”
The university admits you as a student, their professors instruct online in both asynchronous and synchronous ways using Zoom and Slack, and the diploma is indistinguishable from a regular university degree.
“We are the tech platform where they author and deliver the courses. Our platform currently reaches over 80 million learners globally and we have the tech that allows authoring and delivering of very flexible courses,” Jeff explained.
“We also have something called Coursera Labs, and especially when it comes to computer science, cloud computing, and data science, we have the ability to help learners develop hands-on digital skills at scale.”
Surprisingly, Coursera offers lectures that can be watched for free.
“So, most of the learners on Coursera aren’t paying anything. But if you want to earn a certificate saying you completed a course and answered the assessment questions to show that you mastered the material, we charge $49 per course, per month on average,” Jeff said.
“We have specializations that run 4 or 5 courses, and as for degrees, our fees are generally around half what on-campus college degrees cost.”
The questions companies should ask
Jeff pointed to the opportunities or challenges, depending on how you look at it, companies face locally and globally. To find those, Jeff suggested organizations ask the following questions:
How digital is your company? Can you find your customer base online? How digital are your customer experiences? How digital is your supply chain?
“Also, more than ever, companies today need organizational agility,” Jeff revealed.
“How well can you capture data about your customers and competitors and help people make good decisions in the company? How fast can you do that?” Jeff asked, listing what companies should investigate within their organizations.
Coursera’s entire proof of concept is designed and built on the premise and promise to train and certify the companies’ staff and managers, provide answers to these questions, and bridge both the knowledge and skills gap.
Allowing tertiary education to keep up
Jeff said many governments are realizing that the universities in their regions have not been able to keep up with how fast things were changing.
“Change at breakneck speed is difficult to manage in tertiary education, so many universities are hiring Coursera for Campus to introduce data science and tech science courses to their students,” Jeff revealed.
“Over 233,000 students use Coursera for Campus in the Middle East.”
Creating employment eligibilities
Jeff said that it was possible to get an entry-level job in cybersecurity as an analyst, but also in other jobs looking for data analysts, data science experts, social media marketing, and more.
“In Cybersecurity, even if you don’t have a college degree or any prior experience in IT or computing, earning a certificate on Coursera will create opportunities for learners to work in entry-level jobs in large companies, and plow their way through,” Jeff said.
“We believe that within 50-60 hours of learning, people can do what it takes for requirements to an entry-level job.”
Coursera indicated that a learner can develop core technical skills in a field like Sales in as little as 38 hours, or can gain the skills to become a Data Analyst in 64 hours to start a career in data science.
Recent graduates and mid-career professionals can develop entry-level digital job skills in as little as 35 to 70 hours, while someone with no degree or technology experience can be job-ready in 80 to 240 hours (or 2-6 months with 10 learning hours per week).
New age soft skills
Problem-solving, critical thinking, organizational development, creativity, and communication are soft skills that are always in demand.
“But there are new things now like self-regulation, which is time management and reliability that allow you to focus attention despite many distractions and remote work conditions,” Jeff announced.
“Also dealing with diversity as teams become more global, alongside agility, curiosity, and growth mindsets in a faster changing digital world.”
He said these soft skills start at the top.
“If you are a leader who was able to manage pre-crisis and even during the crisis, but not thinking about managing a global distributed partly remote, partly on-premise, workforce, then you are in trouble,” Jeff declared.
“Just imagine a middle manager who previously could see employees face to face, check the quality of their work, and provide support, but when some are not at work, or not even in the same time zone, your management competencies need to be reskilled.”