by Christopher Marquis
Author of Better Business

As the long-term implications of the COVID-19 pandemic remain to be seen, some of its early effects are showing staying power. Among those is growing demand for online education, which became the main way for students to learn amid stay-at-home orders.

For Coursera, a Silicon Valley-based online education platform, this sudden shift has brought leaps in enrollment and created new opportunities for partnerships and other collaborative opportunities. As a “learners first” business that aims to expand access to education and make a positive impact on society, in 2021 Coursera gained B Corp Certification and debuted on the New York Stock Exchange, raising nearly $520 million in its initial public offering.

I recently talked to Betty Vandenbosch, Coursera’s Chief Content Officer, who described how when faced with the disruptions of the last two years, Coursea has leaned into the social mission it has had since its founding. “At the beginning of the pandemic we said, ‘Wow — there are millions of people around the world who can’t go to school.’ So we opened up Coursera to the world for free. Universities around the globe could use Coursera for free during the pandemic, and the consequence of that is post-pandemic, we have relationships with thousands of universities that continue to use Coursera.”

Vandenbosch also told me that when social justice became in the spotlight after the many cases of police brutality and the George Floyd murder, leaders at the company said “’We have to do something about this.’ So we launched an initiative to help our university partners create content related to social justice and we provided grants for that content.

The company has also started publishing an impact report that lays out exactly what they’ve done, and what the impact has been. The report shows, the number of registered Coursera users climbed from 44 million in 2019 to 92 million in 2021. While the U.S. has the largest number of registered users, at 17.3 million, countries with emerging economies — including Paraguay, Lebanon, and the Philippines — have the highest rates of new learner enrollment.

Coursera has also fostered a growth in women turning to courses in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) as they pursue new fields with growth and opportunity. (See Coursera’s Women and Skills Report 2021)

According to Vandenbosch, “Women are starting to embrace STEM; they did in much greater numbers during the pandemic. That’s because women really lost out during the pandemic — they had all the jobs that were stopped, as digitization of those jobs has increased. And they’ve said, ‘Oh, I have to do something.’ And Coursera has enabled them to do it because they can spend 10 minutes in between tasks. That to me is the biggest thing that happened as a consequence of the pandemic at Coursera — who is on our platform. And that’s a change for the better.”

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