School’s out: reimagining education

With a huge global shortage in trained teachers – and 27 million more required by 2030 – to what degree can online learning educate the world?

By Stéphanie Durand, ‎Head of Enterprise, EMEA at Coursera 

Delivering education online is growing in popularity around the world, and this growth is not set to slow down anytime soon. According to a 2013 report by the Babson Survey Research Group, over 6.7 million students were enrolled in at least one online class in 2011, compared to only 1.6 million in 2002. Today, more than 27 million people from around the world have signed up via Coursera alone to experience online courses. 

This exponential growth of online learning is unsurprising when one considers the barriers preventing people from accessing quality education (or education at all), alongside the ways technology can be used to break down the walls that still exist. 

Geographical boundaries

Outside the big cities, people often experience significant challenges in terms of access to high quality education, even more so in developing countries. These areas are impacted by fewer schools, a lack of trained teachers and large class sizes. Transport may not be easily affordable or learning centres too far away. According to UNESCO’s Institute of Statistics, in 75 per cent of countries only a third of teachers are trained and 27 million more teachers will be needed by 2030. 

So how do we combat this? While technology is not the answer to all challenges, it certainly is one solution. Thanks to online learning platforms, a physical classroom is no longer the only place to gain an education. Anyone can now learn anything, anywhere, without concern over the restrictions associated with a physical classroom. An internet connection has not only improved convenience and accessibility, but also grants the same high-quality education to anyone, anywhere in the world – creating a new era of truly globalised education.

This, in turn, is levelling the playing field between emerging and developed markets by allowing students all over the world to access education that was previously restricted to more economically developed regions.  

 Stéphanie Durand

Education for all – a case in point

Education is no longer off limits to anyone. Take Hadi Althib, one of Coursera’s learners, who fled his home country of Syria to escape military service in 2016. 

Hadi, now 23, arrived in Turkey with dreams of starting a new life. He had no possessions and no plan. He settled near the Syrian border and focused on finding work and a place to live. Nearly 18 months after his arrival, like thousands of refugees across the world, Hadi turned to the internet for help and started to complete online courses to push himself back into education. This small step irrevocably changed the trajectory of his life. 

In the midst of conflict and instability, harnessing technology to reach disadvantaged communities and bridge  gaps in traditional education systems can pave the way for refugees or anyone seeking to rebuild their lives and communities. Stories such as Hadi’s are evidence that this is working. 

Hadi is now applying skills from the courses he’s taken through the Coursera for Refugees initiative to manage projects that teach non-violent communication to young refugees. The skills he’s learned have helped Hadi feel engaged in his community. “Every day I’m learning and integrating my work on the ground,” he said. “By learning, I can be an active citizen wherever I am.” 

Innovation in online resources

The way content is being delivered is also revolutionising access to education. 

The rise of mobility has been central to this transition in recent years and it’s easy to understand why. People can spend hours at a time scrolling through social media on mobile devices. This could be out of habit, or a sporadic 15 minutes here and there trying to keep up to date with what’s trending online.   The average person picks up their smartphone 85 times in one day. That equates to five hours browsing the web and using apps – a third of the time spent awake. This doesn’t even include texting or phoning friends and family. 

With such new habits, it makes sense for providers to offer quality rich content that is easily accessible for ‘on-the-go’ devices. Mobile apps are transforming learning, enabling users who may not have access or funds for a computer.  

As technology continues to innovate, we can expect the education sector to grow even further in the direction of customised solutions. This will put even greater emphasis on improving outcomes and personalised learning.  

‘An internet connection has not only improved convenience and accessibility, but also grants the same high-quality education to anyone, anywhere in the world – creating a new era of truly globalised education.’

Limitless opportunities

Online courses are boundless and contain a unique blend of traditional and online teaching techniques to create a pathway that is open to everyone and suited to every type of learner. 

Whether it is somebody who has just finished university needing to learn a software and be more competitive, a professional looking to bolster their CV or the lifelong learner interested in acquiring new skills – the benefit of online learning platforms means the variety of courses available is colossal. Want to learn to code? There is  a course. Want to communicate effectively in a meeting in Spanish? Plenty of options online. Want to understand animal behaviour? Once again it is likely there is  one.    

No matter someone’s background or previous education, it is now easier than ever for them to make a start or get ahead in their career, or learn a new skill to benefit their life in some way.  

Technology is undoubtedly playing a vital role in this attitude shift toward breaking down traditional barriers of access. This means learning is no longer solely available to a reduced group of people. Opportunities for convenience, cost-effectiveness, and personal enrichment are just some of the variables that have contributed to online learning’s monumental growth. 

Online learning continues to take education outside of classroom walls and break down the barriers to continued learning. The ability to learn online has become an enabler in providing everyone with a fair opportunity for quality education irrespective of one’s socio-economic background or geographic limitations. The result is not only personal and career benefits for the individual learner, but a more skilled and informed workplace as well. 




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