How will online education evolve? Coursera's Leah Belsky has a few ideas

We caught up with Leah Belsky, chief enterprise officer of Coursera, to talk about online education trends today and tomorrow.
Written by Larry Dignan, Contributor

Education has moved online in a hurry amid that COVID-19 pandemic and stay-at-home orders, but what students experience today is just the beginning of the digital transformation.

We caught up with Leah Belsky, chief enterprise officer of Coursera, to talk about online education trends today and tomorrow. Here are some of the takeaways from our video chat.

The COVID-19 crisis spurred a surge in online learning. Belsky said there have been a few e-learning themes to emerge during the pandemic. First, consumers have flocked to platforms like Coursera amid stay-at-home orders. There has also been a surge in upskilling on Coursera's platform for courses like machine learning and programming. And on the university side, Coursera has helped universities move to online education as campuses closed.

Is this online education's moment? Belsky said:

I definitely think this is the turning point. I wouldn't say that this is the moment. If you speak to many of the universities, and we brought together many of our universities a week ago in a global conference, they will say, what we're putting out now is crisis education. This is not true online education. This is whatever we could pull together in a few weeks. But I do think this crisis is going to profoundly change how universities educate people moving forward for a couple of reasons.

One, students are now scattered around the world and I think it's unlikely that they'll all come back to campus immediately. We've seen the predictions from the experts, and it sounds like we're going to see waves of this virus and waves of sheltering in place and then going about our daily lives. And from the university perspective, I think it's unlikely that many of the students who are now distributed around the world will all come together in the same place. And so universities are going to have to start designing their education, so that part of it is forever online.

The new normal may be more online or hybrid. Many universities already have digital infrastructure with learning management systems, video conferencing and courseware. The role of the professor in these hybrid environments will change. "Professors will take on a slightly different role, which is facilitating classrooms, facilitating discussions both in person and online, but using courses and lectures from other universities. That's kind of the world we're preparing for," said Belsky.

"I think the role of the professor is going to change, the amount of time students spend learning online is going to change, the way universities collaborate is going to change"

Education price points will change amid university deficits and pushback on tuition for in-person learning vs online. "I think online education if done right can be incredibly powerful. It may be that the price point is slightly different, and we at Coursera make a point of trying to lower the cost of the education that we're providing so that it can be more affordable," said Belsky.

The future of online education. Belsky noted that today most e-learning efforts are trying to replicate current systems. But best practices and new technologies will emerge to revamp the online education experience and engage students better. 


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