By Anthony Tattersall
As COVID-19 has swept across the globe, almost every college and university has had to move from an on-campus educational model to one that is virtually 100% online. Recognizing the monumental challenge of transitioning their offerings online, we made over 3,800 courses from our catalog available to universities free of charge until the end of September through our Coursera for Campus platform.
As we continue to work with our university partners to develop the best solutions possible to successfully adapt in the face of the ongoing crisis, we are identifying approaches and strategies that can be beneficial for universities today, and going forward. As we are witnessing, resiliency is a critical component for both short and long-term success.
As we look ahead to a post-coronavirus world, we believe higher education institutions can benefit from adopting the following:
- Attract remote and international students with asynchronous learning options.
Universities are justifiably concerned, even as travel restrictions lift, that many current and prospective students will choose not to travel, or won’t be able to travel. This presents a challenge for both student acquisition and retention, particularly as regards to international learners.
Financial and health concerns are the primary reasons for hesitancy around travel. In an April survey by SimpsonScarborough, 49% of current college students in the United States said COVID-19 was impacting their families’ financial situation, and one in five high school seniors said they likely would not attend college next term because of the pandemic.
To address these issues, universities are going to need to provide significantly more learning flexibility. To attract and retain students who live in different time zones, or who have to plan their studies around work schedules, universities will need to offer a high-quality combination of synchronous and asynchronous virtual learning opportunities.
- Increase efforts to teach in-demand job skills that adequately prepare students for a rapidly changing employment landscape.
The worldwide economic downturn has led to students being increasingly concerned about their post-graduation employment prospects. They are worried about whether they can get jobs, and they want to be as prepared as possible.
Universities can help address these concerns by placing increasing emphasis and allocating increased resources, towards teaching skills identified as being especially in-demand across the modern hiring landscape.
At Coursera, we see that 31% of recent learning activity is in the computer science category, 17% is in data science, and 17% is in business. We also see a strong interest in courses like Introduction to Personal Branding, created by the University of Virginia, and a Career Success Specialization, developed by UC-Irvine.
Many universities, including our partner universities, are already incorporating in-demand job skills into their degree and certificate programs to help prepare students in every major for life after graduation. Some of these skills include basic data literacy, critical thinking, entrepreneurship, self-awareness and emotional intelligence, career management, and more.
- Develop and deploy viable online mechanisms to measure and assess student progress and achievement.
This is an essential step, as in-person assessments are not possible now, and likely won’t be for the foreseeable future. Key challenges for universities then, are to implement new mechanisms that are both trustworthy and effective. As one example, because “closed-book” tests are difficult to enforce online, high quality, problem-solving exercises can function as adequate substitutes.
Technologies such as virtual and augmented reality can be used to simulate hands-on assessments that would typically be conducted in person. The medical faculty at Imperial College, London, is doing pioneering work in this area. With a hands-on, project-based approach, universities can not only measure student achievement online, but they can also provide innovative new ways for students to master skills, and gain experience applying them in real-world scenarios.
- Deliver high-quality educational experiences online that promote confidence in learning and career outcomes.
For students to feel confident about their career prospects after they graduate, they need to feel confident about their learning experiences while still in school. Unfortunately, the unexpected migration to online learning occasioned by the coronavirus crisis has left many students feeling destabilized and anxious.
To help address these concerns, universities can take important steps to ensure that their online offerings deliver the same high standards of quality as students were used to when learning in person. Teaching online presents a unique array of both opportunities and challenges, but with the right combination of training, design, and technology, it is possible to optimize curriculum offerings for online delivery in ways that allow faculty to continue teaching at the highest levels, and that provide students with fully engaging and compelling experiences.
Our university partners choose Coursera because of our long-standing expertise as an online learning platform, and with our partners, we are proud to offer the world’s best learning opportunities. By working together to create outstanding experiences online, we can
help students feel confident in knowing that they are learning the in-demand skills that will see them achieve career success after they graduate.
Historically, many institutions were reticent to embrace online learning because of perceived barriers to student engagement. Interestingly, we’re now seeing a lot of positive feedback on online learning programs—some of the online content is of exceptionally high-quality. Universities need to continue this positive momentum and help make students feel confident that they’ll get the anticipated value from their investment in the form of marketable skills and credentials.
For even more learnings from the Times Higher Ed Innovation and Impact Summit, tune into the on-demand recording of Building educational resiliency: Blending online and offline curricula to achieve skill-building goals
Anthony Tattersall is Head of Europe, Middle East, and Africa for Coursera.5