From machine learning (ML), artificial intelligence (AI), and analytics to life skills, online learning platform Coursera says it is bringing courses from the best universities to millions across the globe. With over 190 universities and industry partners globally, the Mountain View, California-based Coursera is partnering with companies to help upskill their workforce. In India, it has tied up with companies such as Axis Bank, Airtel, Tata Communications, and the Indian School of Business (ISB).
Raghav Gupta, managing director, India and APAC, Coursera, spoke to Fortune India about the company’s growth strategy in India. Edited excerpts:
Talk to us about what Coursera is doing in India.
We are a learning platform with 42 million learners worldwide; of these, about 4.2 million are in India. People come to Coursera because they want to learn and prosper. We also offer certification from some of the world’s top universities and companies. India is our second-largest market after the U.S. In the past two years, we have added companies like Google, AWS, and IBM, who are teaching various topics. A machine learning course by Stanford University, for example, has been taken by over 2.5 million people.
Three years ago we launched Coursera for enterprise; and enterprise could be the government, business, and universities. In business, we work with companies because with technology changing so rapidly, they want to play an active role in transforming talent.
There is also not enough capacity in higher education in India; only one in four students gets to go to college. The other part is quality; not all students graduating from universities are employable. And a lot of workers are likely to be impacted by automation and other technologies, whether these are radiologists or bank tellers, a lot of these jobs are getting automated. There will also be 100 million new entrants in the job market; what we are trying to do is that with Coursera for business, we will help companies get ready for these changes in the workforce.
Is Coursera for business going to be the next big thing for you?
It is a very large growth area and it is a focus area as well, given that we have quickly grown to be working with 1,900 companies worldwide. And a lot of these relationships are getting bigger. A lot of these companies start with say 2,000 people and once they see the success, it might go up to 5,000 or 10,000 people. We work about 175 companies in APAC (Asia-Pacific) and more than 55 companies in India. We are seeing quite a bit of growth momentum there.
Who is driving growth for you—enterprises or individual consumers?
In percentage terms, because enterprise is a newer business so the growth is higher; we grew 200% last year in enterprise. The consumer business is also growing quite strongly, but in percentage terms, it would be a little bit slower because that’s already a large business. We are using almost 100,000 individual users in India every month, and globally about half a million every month.
What are the skills and courses Indians more interested in?
A lot of these are technology and data science courses. So, it could be a course on AI, cryptocurrency, Google Cloud, machine learning, and data science. There are some in the business domain or the softer skills domain, for example—’Learning how to learn’ is one of the top courses. Compared to global trends, in India there is a higher skew towards technology and business; and personal development is a little bit lesser.
Online learning has evolved significantly in the past few years and many newer players have entered as well. How do you distinguish yourself from the others?
Our mission is to bring high-quality education to everyone in the world. The kind of people that we are reaching and the kind of educational content we are taking, that is important. For many years Coursera was only a consumer platform. Now we have Coursera for business, Coursera for governments, and Coursera for universities. Initially, we were only a MOOC platform. We added specialisations, degrees. Online education is expanding. A lot of businesses are undergoing digital transformations, education is coming in late into the digital story. Today, when a student can learn from a professor who is the best professor in the world, why should that student be listening to somebody who is not high quality.
Tell us about your partnerships with universities.
There are two kinds of partnerships—one is a content creation partnership and the other is a content consumption partnership. On the content creation side, ISB is a Coursera partner. Their content is on our platform; some of these are business courses and some are life purpose courses. For example, there is a course called—A Life of Happiness and Fulfillment, which is really popular. We also want to get other leading Indian universities to author content for us.
The other part is Coursera for universities platform, where along with what universities are teaching on campus, we take the content to the students and the faculty; there we are working with Manipal University and our intent is to announce a lot more partnerships.
How are you planning to expand your consumer base?
As a part of the stackable model—which is course, specialisations, master tracks, and degrees—we also have professional certificates. And that is for somebody who is not necessarily looking for higher education but is looking for career-relevant skills and professional certificate for that. For example, last year we launched something called the Google IT support professional certificate. This is meant for people who have not necessarily completed their graduation but want to start a career in IT. Similarly, we have an IBM customer service certificate. So, somebody who wants to work in a BPO or call centre organisation can come and learn skills around customer service; it is not ML or AI. These have seen a very good response. So the professional certificate is something we think we will expand quite a bit.
Are more people in India paying for online learning?
What happens globally and in India is that people come and sign up for a few courses, get a feel of what it is like; and once they get familiar with it, some will convert to taking a full-paid course, and we are seeing that. That’s consistent with what happens in India and the world.
What are some of the newer technologies you are using to making Coursera better?
First one is ML and AI. On our consumer platform, because it is a massive catalogue, helping people find the right courses is important. The other thing we do using AI is when a person is taking a course, since we have information on them and we know certain sections could be hard for a particular person. So, we can tell them that this part is hard and that they need to pay extra attention; we can tell them which parts they need to focus on more. To make it more immersive, we are going to be using augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) as well.