Education and labor across the world have been hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic, with schools shut down and unemployment on the rise. Coursera, one of the largest online learning platforms on the planet, decided early in the global outbreak to take initiatives to support people affected by the crisis. It has offered courses for free to students at closed universities and partnered with governments to train those workers who lost their jobs, also at no cost.
Measures like these added to the exponential growth in demand for online courses among professionals from all industries. As a result, 10 million new users have registered on the platform since mid-March, six times the pace of registrations in the same period last year. In Latin America, the jump occurred at the same rate.
Coursera currently has 63 million learners registered on its services, and offers more than 4,300 courses, 450 specializations and 20 degrees. Altogether, it has 200 partner institutions, both in academia and industry, and 2,400 companies use the company’s enterprise platform Coursera for Business.
In Latin America, there are 11.5 million registered learners, with 15 university partners, and more than 300 customers among companies and governments currently using Coursera to train and upskill employees and citizens. Mexico and Brazil are, respectively, the firm’s third and fifth largest markets.
In an interview with LABS, Mario Chamorro, head of Latin America at Coursera, says that the region, like the rest of the world, had to adopt online education at an impressive speed. “What Colombia’s agency for digital transformation was planning to do in four years, they did it in only three months. Basically the whole region has been experiencing this fast transformation,” he says.
Coursera offered rapid response initiatives to the pandemic
The closure of schools and universities has impacted the education of approximately 1.6 billion students worldwide, 200 million of those in Latin America alone, according to Unesco figures. In March, Coursera launched a Campus Response Initiative, providing affected universities and colleges free access to its courses. Institutions were able to grant their enrolled students entry to 3,800 courses and 400 specializations on Coursera catalogue.
According to Chamorro, 80 universities applied for it in Brazil and 40 of them are currently using this benefit. Globally, 3,300 institutions have taken advantage of that opportunity.
Due to the closure of businesses, unemployment rates have been soaring. On April 24th, Coursera started the Workforce Recovery Initiative to upskill and reskill displaced workers, who receive free access to online learning through partnerships with federal, state, and local governments.
According to Chamorro, as of today, 92% of Latin American countries are using these courses to help citizens that have lost their jobs due to the pandemic. “Eight out of 10 government agencies that are using this project the most are coming from Latin America, so it has had a great reception,” he points out.
In Colombia, where Coursera provided 50,000 licenses through the initiative, president Ivan Duque announced on public television the usage of this platform. Currently, 20,000 Colombian unemployed workers are using it. Other examples come from Guatemala and Chile, where partnerships with local NGOs and government agencies are providing tens of thousands of people online retraining programs.
Interest for health and well-being content has gone through the roof
Over the past 30 days, demand for public health content on Coursera jumped 1,066% in Brazil. The elevenfold increase in the country is staggering, but demand for healthcare, public health and well-being content rocketed everywhere. Since March, the company has authored and put about 10 different courses on the platform that are related to COVID-19.
Since going live on May 11th, John Hopkins University’s “COVID-19 Contact Tracing“ has had over 429,000 enrollments and 165,000 completions, making it the most popular course launched on Coursera in 2020. Its content is available with Portuguese and Spanish subtitles.
Developed by the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, the six-hour course was designed to train individuals in the basic principles of contact tracing.
Another recent hit, and the second-most sought after course in Latin America in 2020, has been “The Science of Well-Being”, by Yale University. “It is a course on happiness. We have seen a really increased interest from learners to stay mentally healthy during the lockdown. This is something that we have been seeing across different markets”, says Chamorro.
Coursera’s origins were in AI and Stanford
Coursera was founded in 2012 at Stanford University by computer science professors Andrew Ng and Daphne Koller, who taught one of the most popular courses on campus and devised the platform so more people could have access to it. In less than two months, 100,000 people enrolled at their particular course. Since then, the company has raised more than $300 million in venture capital.
It functions as a “managed marketplace” for online learning, in the words of CEO Jeff Maggioncalda. Coursera establishes rules, guidelines and price ranges, and determines which institutions get to publish and what courses are offered on its platform. Revenues are split, on varying rates, between Coursera and content providers.
In Brazil, Coursera offers 100 courses in Portuguese, through partnerships with institutions such as FIA Business School, Lemann Foundation, Insper, Aeronautics Institute of Technology, University of São Paulo (USP) and University of Campinas (Unicamp). “We just hired a person that is currently from Coursera working full time with these universities, and definitely one of our intentions is to do more work in Brazil”, says Chamorro.
On the Hispanic side, Coursera has 500 courses in Spanish and 46 specializations. Last year it launched a degree in computer science with the Universidad de Los Andes, in Colombia, and in 2020 it announced another degree in Spanish, in data analysis.
From the business point of view, forecasts look decidedly promising for the company. The surge in demand over the last months may have been essentially driven by free content – actually, fewer than 10% of Coursera students pay for programs, and in Latin America the figure is a bit lower than the global average. But 60% of students in its degree programs have tried free courses before.
Also, learners who seek a certificate tend to complete courses at much higher rates. On consumer-targeted courses, completion rates hover around 15%, but on the enterprise segment they reach 90%. The pool for future paid-for registrations has grown immensely.