The coronavirus pandemic has fueled not only the digital transformation of society and changed the nature of study or work during the months of confinement and social distancing. It has also accelerated a series of root changes in the way of working, organizing, collaborating and training that will remain even when COVID-19 is left behind. The magnitude of this change is evidenced, for example, by the growth experienced by free online training platforms (MOOCs) like edX, Miríadax or Coursera. Since mid-March, when the state of alarm began, there were more than 632,000 license plates in Spain alone, which is equivalent to a growth of 272% compared to the same period of the previous year. Globally, more than 27 million users joined Coursera, with 58 million registrations in its different courses (473% more).
Digital skills, including machine learning (machine learning), programming or data science, take over the training most demanded by both companies and individual users, mixed – how could it be otherwise in this 2020 – with others related to well-being and health, including even a free Covid-19 contact tracing course, about five hours long and produced by the Johns Hopkins University, which is available in Spanish, English and Spanish. To talk about the impact of training on-line, EL PAÍS spoke with Jeff Magioncalda, CEO of Coursera.
Question. Is the digital transformation of education going backwards?
Answer. I do not think so. Almost every industry in the world has been joining this digital transformation in the last five to ten years, and higher education is one of the last to do so. I think what we’re going to see is, in part due to the pandemic, a lot more hybrid classes. Even as all students return to campus, more and more instruction will take place online. And the same will happen with remote work … Already on March 6, all Coursera employees started working from home. I was very against teleworking, and I thought it just wasn’t going to be the same (and it isn’t); But we learned a lot about how effective we can be working remotely with a distributed workforce. Neither Coursera nor many other companies will go back to working as we did before.
Of course we will continue to have offices, and people will go there from time to time; but work online, and how to collaborate on-line that we are learning are going to change the way we work. And I think the same thing happens with education. When students return, and even if everyone returns, to campus, there will be learning on-line; It will be on mobile phones; they will be doing group projects and practical projects; and they will use technology, because in many ways, it offers a much more dynamic way of learning than you can get in a large auditorium. I think that large auditoriums are not going to be so attractive again. A large part of that will happen online, even when students return to campus. I also think that many students are not going to come back, because it is expensive and, especially in older students, because they cannot afford to leave their jobs to go back to study, or move with their families. The average age of Coursera students in Spain is much higher than the global average.
The education on-line is accessible to a much wider audience than the face-to-face one, and that is why [las instituciones educativas] They will continue to offer courses and qualifications online, which cost less and allow you to reach more students.
P. In a labor market as changing as the one we live in, it is important to adapt with the skills that companies demand the most. What areas of learning on-line will they be more relevant in the coming years?
R. When Coursera started in 2012, one of the most popular courses was Stanford University’s Machine Learning. It still is, and a lot of data scientists come to Coursera, because we have very innovative data science courses. As we spread our distribution to different institutions, what we saw is that companies are really looking for the same type of skills and education as individuals, mostly data science, technology and business, although recently we have seen a greater interest in the field of health.
In Spain, the most popular courses in 2020 are, in order, machine learning, psychological first aid (from the Autonomous University of Barcelona), learning to learn, wellness science (from Yale University) and Chinese for beginners (from the Peking University). And among the practical courses, they highlight how to build your own website using WordPress and GoogleAds for beginners.
P. Would you say that digital skills are essential today in any case, regardless of the field in which you work?
R. Of course. And one rationale is that many of the most in-demand jobs are digital, requiring that skill to access, share, analyze and present data. Any job uses a software to complete your tasks. Digital tools and data are especially relevant when collaborating with other people or making decisions. This is the job now.
P. How do you see the future of university education?
A. It is changing rapidly, due to the coronavirus pandemic. On the one hand, it will be a more hybrid education, with many more experiences on-line where some students will be on campus and others will not, and even on campus people will also be online. On the other hand, there will be many more courses and degrees online: At Coursera we now have 20 degrees from our university partners, but that number is going to grow dramatically. And thirdly, I think tuition costs will be lower, especially for degrees on-line, but also for the face-to-face ones, because there will be more alternatives and greater competition.
The education it will also be more focused on the labor market, So even if you are studying Philosophy, Humanities or English, which will contribute to your communication and collaboration skills, you will also need basic knowledge of data, statistics, analytical skills and even programming. Another point that is going to be different is continuous training throughout professional life, at work and online. And finally, it will be much more modular and stackable: you can acquire a certificate that counts for a degree, you can obtain a certificate on-line that counts for a face-to-face degree, complete face-to-face degrees that count towards your degree on-line, Or get certificates from educators in the industry, like Google, and have them told you in college.
P. One of the main advantages of online platforms such as Coursera, edX or Miríadax is the large number of free courses (MOOCs) available. However, only 8-10% of those who enroll finish them. It seems that free training, precisely because it is, is not valued enough.
R. In general, you are correct. Although it depends on the country, for the courses on-line free, the completion rate is around 10%. The interesting thing is that when people go to YouTube to learn something, nobody talks about those percentages, they just notice that they can learn something on YouTube. We have about 4,000 courses, and each of them has short video presentations of between five and ten minutes. 150,000 video lessons. When you look at the percentage of those videos that are completed, you find that it is around 60% (even in free courses).
If you look at people who have paid for a course, the completion rate is much higher, around 40-50%. If we take a look at those numbers at work, because your company has asked you to take a certain course, between 50 and 60% of employees finish it. And in undergraduate students [en estas plataformas], those percentages exceed 90%. So it really depends on why the student has undertaken that learning, and if they are interested in completing all the content or not. Many people who enroll in a course are only interested in learning part of the content.
We have a new product, Coursera For Campus, which we launched a year ago and which today has millions of students. In many universities around the world, in Latin America, India or Europe, teachers grant face-to-face credits if you finish a certain course on Coursera. And the completion rates there are around 95%. That’s because students are motivated, because they want to get a good grade for their grade.
On March 12, we also launched Campus Response Initiative, a free version of Coursera For Campus for universities affected by Covid-19 anywhere in the world, which ended last week but whose continuation until the end of the year will be officially announced. next week. In Spain, 71 programs have been developed within the framework of this initiative, and 3,700 universities have participated globally. This has benefited 2.3 million students enrolled in 19 million courses (an average of 8 enrollments per student) who have invested 42 million hours of learning. They want to do it because it counts towards their grade and because it is a way to earn credits toward their degree.
P. Most experts point out that the labor market demands flexible professionals who adapt to changing circumstances, and that continuous training is essential. All this training is at hand, but that collides with the fact that, if your employer or your teacher does not ask you, most do not finish those courses.
R. When I came to Coursera three and a half years ago (and this is true for most companies that offer MOOCs), almost everything we offered was courses directly to individuals. And then we decided to start offering training through institutions. That is why we have Coursera For Business, where employees take courses offered by their companies with content that they want their workers to assimilate; o Coursera For Government, for governments to offer certain training courses to their employees and unemployed workers, to reactivate the workforce with the most in-demand skills for jobs related to information technology, marketing or cybersecurity, for example [un catálogo que, desde el 24 de abril, ofrecen a los desempleados gratuitamente].
This institutional framework is important to many, many people. Clearly there are tens of millions of people doing courses on their own, but many people, because they are busy and not sure what they should be learning, do not see that it necessarily compensates them to do them; They need to be supported and directed by an institution that tells them “this is what we want you to do, this will benefit you in your work or in your education.”
P. If many of the courses are free, what have those initiatives that granted free access during the pandemic really contributed?
R. Access to the courses and viewing the videos is free, but you do not get a certificate at the end, nor do you have access to the evaluation tests. For many people, it is important to be able to put it later on LinkedIn and to be able to show that they have learned certain content, and for that they pay.