When the world had to pause and pivot because of COVID-19, companies, schools, and people scrambled to find tools and platforms that not only kept them afloat but enabled them to be productive. Ready to serve was an organization founded by two Stanford University professors who had the vision of making education accessible to anyone, anywhere in the world.

Today, Coursera is considered one of the leading global online learning platforms for higher education. Schools, students, and businesses turned to the platform when shelter-in-place and quarantine orders suddenly shut down in-person classes.

Since mid-March, Coursera has had a surge of 33 million enrollments, which is a 500 percent increase over the same time period last year.

“The reason learners are coming to Coursera is because they may want to be reskilled into new jobs, new areas, upskill in their own current field, gain a promotion, or they are seeking change through learning,” says Shravan Goli, chief product officer of Coursera. “We’re perceived as a definite need to ensure they’re able to deal with the crisis impacting their own personal lives in different ways.”

A Resource for the Unemployed

With widespread job losses around the world, the company launched the Coursera Workforce Recovery Initiative in April to assist federal, state, and local governments and the 2.7 billion workers globally who are unemployed.

“Coursera, along with its community of partners, is ready to serve the millions of workers who have lost their jobs and are going to have a hard time returning in a slow economy,” says Jeff Maggioncalda, chief executive officer of Coursera. “We are honored to help U.S. states, and countries around the world, in their efforts to alleviate the impact on communities hardest hit by the pandemic.”

Through the initiative, Coursera provides access to 3,800 courses that teach critical business, technology and data skills, and classes to earn professional certificates like the Google IT Support Professional Certificate.

The goal is to help workers develop the knowledge and skills to get another job. U.S. states such as Illinois, Arizona, Oklahoma, and Missouri, as well as countries including Columbia, Costa Rica, Greece, Malaysia, Panama, Ukraine and Uzbekistan were among the first to sign up.

Missouri’s Job Recovery Initiative Offers Free Training Through Coursera

“The well-being of Costa Ricans and our resilience relies on our focus to prepare for the jobs of tomorrow, which given this situation, are becoming more so the jobs of today,” says President of Costa Rica Carlos Alvarado Quesada in a statement. “I am excited to announce that with Coursera, we now have the opportunity to provide our citizens with the technical skills they need to find new, well-paying jobs.”

Offering Stackable Modular Learning Options

Coursera offers classes and training designed as “stackable modular learning options.” The content is created by more than 200 educator partners—universities across the world and 40 different companies. Together, they combine insights into the jobs in demand and the skills required for jobs of the future to create the courses and curriculum.

Since the outbreak of the coronavirus, Goli says, there’s been an increase in enrollments in health and personal well-being classes. “Mind Control: Managing Your Mental Health During COVID-19” offered by the University of Toronto has seen one of the largest increases. The company partnered with Johns Hopkins University to help teach and train contact tracers. With 2.2 million enrollments, “The Science of Well-Being” from Yale is the most popular Coursera course in 2020. It is one of the top five most popular courses on Coursera of all time.

Everyone Needs to Constantly Improve Their Tech Skills

Additionally, Coursera offers more than 4,500 courses that span across 11 different subject matters. Business, technology, and data are consistently the top three most popular and fastest growing sectors. Globally, two-thirds of the world population is falling behind in these critical skills, according to Coursera’s annual Global Skills Index.

“What’s powering the needs in the world? Think about the half-life of a tech skill. It’s about two years. Look at the other trend. It’s the rise of automation. About 375 million jobs are at risk of being displaced. These are retail clerks and those in-service industries. Those jobs are at risk of being automated,” Goli says. “So, as a result, when you look at what a lot of professionals have to do is reskill or upskill constantly. Trends that are driving the world are cloud, AI, machine learning, data science, and tech.”

Across the industries, Coursera says soft skills such as critical thinking, problem solving, leadership and negotiation are also in demand. In the U.S., increased training is a clear need, but it varies across the regions. For example, the West has a demand for technology and data science skills; the Midwest needs more competency in finance; the South needs training in all disciplines, according to Coursera’s report.

Programs to Make You Job-Ready

While Coursera does offer bachelor and master’s degrees, Goli says most users see Coursera as a second chance or alternative to higher or continuing education. For example, 57 percent of those who pursue the Google IT Support Professional Certificate don’t have a degree. Instead of four years for a traditional degree, the certificate can be completed in 6-9 months and prepare learners for jobs immediately upon completion. Goli says learner surveys show 84 percent experience career impacts (e.g. raises, new jobs, starting a new business) within six months or earning the certificate.

Tech Skills are Still at a Premium; Tech Jobs are in Big Demand

All students need to be able to take classes is a device that can access Wi-Fi. Coursera has an app, but access to courses is evenly split between those learners who access classes online through a desktop computer and a mobile device. Classes include videos and lectures to teach theory, but there’s also a chance to learn through Guided Projects, a hands-on learning experience. An instructor takes students step-by-step through a process that enable them to practice a real-world scenario and demonstrate what they’ve learned about, for example, an IT tool.

Because the programs or tools are on the cloud, students don’t need to download or purchase each piece of software or tool. The most popular guided projects include Create Your First Python Program, Introduction to Project Management, and Build Your Portfolio Website with HTML and CSS. Relevant to our current circumstances, Coursera just launched Using Covid-19 Data to Make Supply Chain Logistics Decisions in Spreadsheets.

“A lot of these guided projects are connected to jobs, so learners are developing job-ready applied hands-on learning skills when they’re going through projects,” Goli says. “They can showcase these projects to potential employers. We’re seeing a lot of learners completing projects, and posting certificates on their LinkedIn to show, ‘I finished this project, now I know how to do Tableau,’ for example.”

The top five countries for Coursera students include the United States, India, Mexico, China, and Brazil. Slightly more than half (55 percent) are male, and the average age of its learners is 33.

At the peak of the pandemic when almost every college in the world shut down forcing a billion students to study or learn from home (o,r remotely), Coursera for Campus launched on March 12. The initiative enables any university in the world to access the course catalog. Close to 4,000 universities are taking advantage of the program. “It’s super humbling,” Goli says. “We never imagined having such an impact and helping the world.”

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