The tech helping universities adapt to online learning during the coronavirus crisis

(Image credit: / LStockStudio)

Nearly 15.5 million UK students and more than 1.5 billion students globally are disrupted by COVID-19. 

The pandemic has forced educational institutions around the world to overnight switch to virtual learning. 

Now more than ever, higher education institutions need a durable technological backbone and digital competency to reimagine learning. 

The crisis has forced rapid experimentation among universities. Historically, online education has been an institutional afterthought and used to supplement the student experience. 

A few years ago, early adopters like the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign began building entirely digital academic experiences. In 2016, they brought their MBA online, and by 2019, they decided to stop offering the degree on-campus to focus entirely on the online experience. 

The current crisis will accelerate this trend, and soon, online learning will become an integral part of both on and off-campus experience. 

We are already seeing a dramatic surge in demand for online learning. In the past month, Coursera has experienced nine times as many registrations and six times as many course enrollments from learners in the UK, relative to the same timeframe in 2019.  

As more individuals rely on online learning, we are prepared to provide the global community of educators with every help in their efforts to minimize student disruption. Starting March 12, any college or university impacted by COVID-19 could sign up for free access to Coursera’s catalog. To date, more than 2,600 colleges and universities around the world have activated this program.

To facilitate the move online and quickly deliver relevant courses to students, starting April 15, universities can use CourseMatch, a machine learning solution that ingests a school’s on-campus course catalog and matches each course to the most relevant courses on Coursera. 

The tool has already matched more than 2.6 million on-campus courses across 1,800 schools to courses on Coursera—from Johnson C. Smith University in the US to Universidad Autonoma de Barcelona in Spain. 

Institutions need to have a “buy-build” strategy during this crisis. Ensure a timely response to the most urgent needs by seeking openly available, cost-effective content and technology. 

Use what you acquire now to build a foundation for the institution’s long-term online learning strategy. Universities can start authoring content using widely available tools and measure the effectiveness of courses using data. Insights drawn during this time can help provide a better experience for faculty and students alike. 

The higher education ecosystem may have been slow to adapt, but faced with unprecedented urgency, virtually every institution in the world is turning to some form of online learning. Eventually, students and faculty will return to campus, but blended learning is going to be the new normal. What started as a response to a crisis is likely to become an enduring digital transformation of higher education. 

  • Emily Glassberg Sands is VP of Data at Coursera
Emily Glassberg Sands

Emily Glassberg Sands is VP of Data at Coursera

She is a labor economist by training, she loves using data to understand individual decision-making and societal trends, and to build products that solve critical inefficiencies in the market. She leads the end-to-end data team at Coursera — machine learning, decision science, and data engineering. Coursera attracts tens of millions of individuals from around the world who want to learn and be rewarded for that learning in the labor market, education partners who want a flexible and scalable platform through which to teach the world, and employers who need to transform their talent to keep up with the accelerating change. The data scientists and data engineers fuel data-driven decisions and build data-powered products.