Tuesday May 28, 2024

‘Pandemic has proved e-learning critical vehicle to deliver education’

By Arshad Yousafzai
February 15, 2021

KARACHI: The disruption in education due to the Covid-19 pandemic has turned Pakistan into one of the top 10 markets in the Asia-Pacific region for Coursera, according to the chief enterprise officer of the international massive open online course (Mooc) provider.

“Since mid-March 2020 we have had over 429,000 new learners and 1.2 million enrolments on the Coursera platform from Pakistan,” Leah Belsky told The News during an interview. The Mooc provider boasts 919,000 plus learners from around the world.

The pandemic forced universities in Pakistan and around the world to quickly transition to online teaching and learning. Since the initial disruption, e-learning has grown from a short-term response for ensuring academic continuity to becoming a critical choice for supporting university education.

Many institutions of higher learning have been using the ‘Coursera for Campus’ option to deliver world-class and job-relevant education to their students through the medium of the internet at scale.

Shedding light on the effectiveness of the online education system over traditional learning systems, Leah said that the double disruption of automation and the pandemic is likely to displace an estimated 85 million jobs by 2025.

Among those set to remain in their roles, 50 per cent will need reskilling by 2025. This rate of change means that people will require reskilling and upskilling throughout their lifetimes, which hasn’t been the model for education traditionally.

“We expect students and professionals will increasingly look to institutions to enable access to learning at every stage of life. The pandemic has proved that online learning is a critical vehicle for institutions to deliver education to learners around the world quickly and at scale.”

The model offers the much-needed affordability, flexibility and scalability to both learners and institutions. “We believe that online education can’t replace all of the valuable benefits students receive from earning a degree on campus. However, online learning can be integral to both on-campus and off-campus learning.”

She anticipates that the universities of the future will increasingly apply technology to deliver job-relevant skills. “At the same time, based on signals from the pandemic, we expect there will be an increasing number of alternative pathways into degrees and the workforce.”

These can be skills-based online credentials that are clearly tied to careers like the Google IT Support Professional Certificate, which requires no degree and is designed to prepare learners for an entry-level IT support role in three to six months.

Talking about acquiring skills through online education platforms in context of developing countries, Leah said that online learning allows developing nations to quickly scale up their education systems and offer their youth access to high-quality, job-relevant and affordable content from the world’s top universities.

These platforms also offer skills-based credentials and hands-on learning opportunities, which can help the countries unlock the talent of their citizens and build a competitive workforce that is globally employable.

Many employers are looking for the best talent, irrespective of the geographical background. The pandemic has brought further parity to these opportunities by making remote learning and remote working a new norm.

The combined force of online learning and remote work offers an opportunity to level the playing field for talent and improve social equity around the globe.

She pointed out that the most popular courses taken up on Coursera’s platform by learners from Pakistan include Programming for Everybody (offered by University of Michigan), English for Career Development (University of Pennsylvania), Machine Learning (Stanford University) and The Science of Well-Being (Yale University).

Additionally, Pakistani learners have also shown great uptake for hands-on guided projects, including Build a Full Website using WordPress, Use WordPress to Create a Blog for your Business, Google Ads for Beginners, Use Canva to Create Social Media Marketing Designs, and Introduction to Project Management.

“We offer a vast catalogue of stackable content from the world’s top universities and industry educators. Our focus is on enabling high-quality, job-relevant and lifelong learning for students and professionals in an ever-evolving world.”

Leah said that they also strive to make the learning experience highly effective with hands-on learning opportunities, continuous product enhancements, and personalising recommendations according to their learners’ career aspirations and preferences.

With Coursera for Campus, universities in Pakistan have served more than 78,000 learners, amassing 659,000 course enrolments. Many universities are using the platform to build impactful blended learning programmes, provide supplemental content to their degree offerings, and prepare students for jobs and internships.

Among them are leading institutions like the University of Education Lahore, the Riphah International University and the Lahore College for Women University. Faculty members have adapted well to the digital world, seamlessly embracing new ways of teaching.

With online learning now core to the student experience, instructors are authoring custom courses, assessments and content, and combining live lectures to provide their students a global virtual classroom experience.

The online learning system is gaining acceptance in Pakistan. However, internet penetration and bandwidth issues prove to be a challenge in some areas. Mobile is an incredibly important feature for learners with connectivity issues, as well as those who need to fit learning into their daily lives.

With mobile and offline learning, Coursera enables learners to download courses, synchronise progress and quizzes, take notes with highlights, and calendar sync - all optimised for low data consumption.

“From transcripts and note-taking functionalities to setting reminders to learn, we’re constantly thinking of new ways to make our platform and mobile offering even more accessible. In fact, 56 per cent of Coursera learners in Pakistan use mobile to access their learning.”

Coursera for Campus is designed to help meet the enduring needs of higher education institutions worldwide, assisting universities and colleges in their delivery of job-relevant, multi-disciplinary learning to their students and faculty to author and scale for-credit online programmes.

The upgraded features on Coursera for Campus enable universities to deliver academic integrity for credit-bearing online learning, improve student employability, author private courses, and improve accessibility to students who have limited connectivity and bandwidth.

Some of the key features include automated plagiarism detection with Turnitin and online proctoring with ProctorU, which offer advanced academic integrity for the student experience.

As universities look to building long-term online learning programmes for students, they should ensure their experience meets the academic rigour of campus learning. Coursera for Campus now offers academic integrity features that help empower universities to deliver credit-bearing online learning at scale.