Where Now For Online Learning? Coursera CEO Predicts The Next Wave:

After the extraordinary changes over the last two years, for many in education a key question is where next for online learning?

And few people are in a better position to answer this than the CEO of Coursera, one of the world’s largest online learning platforms.

Pre-pandemic, around 40 million people around the world were enrolled with Coursera. Another 30 million signed up over the course of 2020, and total enrolments today stand at around 90 million.

And although the growth rate has somewhat slowed since the heady days of March and April 2020, the registration rate is still significantly higher than before the pandemic.

And this experience has helped Stanford MBA graduate and Coursera CEO Jeff Maggioncalda gain insight into how online learning is evolving and what the next wave will look like.

The first wave saw the creation of online lectures, in the days when MOOCS were still a novelty, followed by hands-on learning, as VR and AR gave learners new depth to their experience.

And the experience of the pandemic has laid the foundations for the theme of the next wave: collaborative learning.

At the height of the pandemic, schools and universities closed to in-person learning and shifted to online teaching, and employees started learning from home as well as working from home.

But while the online learning experience may have been shared across age groups, as we emerge from the pandemic it will start to diverge.

“The first thing about the pandemic is it gave everybody a taste of online learning,” says Maggioncalda, who marks five years at the helm of Coursera this year. “But the impact is different based on who the learner is and what they’re trying to learn.

“For young children, online learning can not replace the physical and social learning that happens in a schoolyard. So much of learning for young children is learning how to be a social creature. ”

At the other end of the spectrum, online learning often worked really well for adults, allowing them to fit courses around their work schedule.

Among are students in higher education, who missed out on the campus experience, but gained the flexibility offered by online learning. It is here that Maggioncalda predicts we will likely see a permanent shift.

“I think where we’re going to end up is very much a hybrid world, where that experience that was not online at all will certainly have a major online component, even for kids who are on campus,” he says.

“But the major thing is the many people who are not on campus but need to learn will have access to high quality education which is purely online.”

Many of Coursera’s most popular courses during the pandemic have been entry-level professional certificates, a trend largely driven by people switching jobs, Maggioncalda notes.

These learners broadly fall into two categories: those with a degree who want to change careers, and those without a degree but with an entry-level job who want to get credit towards a degree.

“It is a ramp to a new career but also the pathway to a degree,” he says. “We think that is the future of education.”

For learners, the appeal is obvious. A series of certificates provides a path to a college degree that is both cheaper and faster than a traditional campus route, and can fit around a job.

“Once you land in a job you like, you can then go and get a degree while you’re working, so you do not have to forfeit your income,” Maggioncalda says.

While this opens up opportunities, the impact will be felt differently by different universities, he argues.

The more selective universities will feel little pressure to change. Their degrees will still be sought-after by employers and their campus experience will still be desired by students, at the same time as their ability to offer financial support makes the cost more manageable.

But universities below this elite level are likely to see more of an impact.

“I’m not saying don’t get a college degree, but the way you get it will be different,” says Maggioncalda. “More often than not, the degree is going to be earned online and not just on campus.”

And it is not just how students learn that will be hybrid. Campus students will end up taking short, entry-level courses alongside their degree, he argues.

“Maybe you’re studying English or art history, and you’re not sure you’re going to get a job in that field when you graduate, so you hedge your bets,” he says.

“You have a degree and a great residential experience, but also a certificate that has trained you to get a certain job.

“The world is going to be a hybrid: some people on campus and some people online. Even the credentials will be hybrid, where you have a college degree and a professional certificate. When people only get one or the other they will probably be disadvantaged. ”

This will prompt universities below the elite level to look even harder at how they attract students, and will increasingly prompt them to work more closely together.

“The narrative is collaboration,” he says. “We’re seeing more and more universities embrace this team-based approach.”

And this means not just content from other universities, but also from the likes of Facebook, Google and Amazon, allowing universities to offer a broader range of expertise.

As an example, he cites a liberal arts college that could also offer students a certificate in book-keeping, without having to set up a new faculty. And this circles round to those pioneers of online learning, the massive open online course (MOOC)

“There was a lot of hype and a lot of disappointment, but MOOCs are now the building blocks of higher education,” he says. “They are allowing universities to collaborate with each other.”

He expects this approach to blow-up the model of universities being a one-stop shop, able to do everything themselves and bringing all the disciplines under one campus. Instead, market forces will lead to increasing specialization for universities below the elite tier.

“Once schools are subject to market pressure, they’re going to say what are we really good at? Very few schools will be good at everything.

“They will focus on what they are really good at and they will complement that with material from others,” he says.

This does not mean the residential experience will be confined to the top tier of universities. Instead, he says there will be a focus on developing a student body that creates an immersive, creative experience that could not be imitated online.

As an example of how the hybrid approach might work in practice, he cites a university with a strong record in sports medicine licensing a business course, offering career-useful skills without having to set up a business school.

“Universities will take their core disciplines and put online courses around that,” Maggioncalda says.

Following the creation of online lectures, and the development of hands-on learning through virtual and augmented reality, this approach is reflected in the next wave of online learning, he adds.

This will see an increasing emphasis in developing tools to make it easier for learners to work together, he predicts.

“The next wave is going to be continued improvement in collaborative learning,” he says. “How do we do projects? How do we do group discussions? Collaborative learning online is the next frontier. ”

And while it might seem ironic to some, he suspects that this will help bring the online experience closer to the pre-online model.

“It will create an experience that feels a bit like the old-fashioned in-person learning,” he says.

Whether it’s collaboration between universities or collaboration between learners, even as online learning attempts to replicate its offline predecessor, there is no doubt that the pandemic has shifted the dial on what learning will look like.

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