lifelong learning happy ethnic woman sitting at table with laptop computer

Happy to learn: The average age of consumer user on Coursera is 29 (Pexels)

Workers need to feel comforted by employers at this time of high stress, and by offering expanded career paths and encouraging lifelong learning bosses will both motivate their staff and future-proof their organisation, according to Anthony Tattersall

Before the COVID-19 pandemic Coursera was one of the world’s most well-known online learning platforms. After offering free education to countless universities and millions of furloughed workers it has become even more popular. 

Indeed, now some 58 million users are registered with Coursera, which launched in 2012. The platform currently offers over 4,000 courses of varying length that can be binge-learnt, much like a box set. As people look to continue their studies, or master new skills ahead of a career pivot and mindful of upcoming work trends, interest in Coursera will continue to boom.

Approximately 6,500 universities – a quarter of all universities in the world – have taken advantage of Coursera’s generous offer of free education. Additionally, lifelong learning is a hot topic likely to only burn brighter in the coming weeks, months, years and decades, with digital transformation accelerated by the pandemic.

MillGens caught up with Anthony Tattersall, Head of Coursera EMEA – an exciting new contributor to the media channel – about educating the masses today and in the future.

Anthony Tattersall Coursera

Time for new skills: Anthony Tattersall, Head of Coursera EMEA


MillGens: How has COVID-19 affected the trend of lifelong learning?

Anthony Tattersall: “I think it has accelerated that trend. There have been so many reports in recent years about how quickly technical skills are changing; it’s said that the half-life of a technical skill is around two years right now. Interestingly, when we look at Coursera’s consumer base, the average age of someone on our platform is now 29-years old, but there is a range of users, from teenagers to those in their 60s. A lot of the people we have operating on the platform are managers and senior leaders.

“What we’re seeing on the consumer side, in particular, is that there’s been a massive spike in enrolments on the Coursera platform. In the last month in the United Kingdom we’ve seen a 500 per cent increase compared to this time last year, and globally it’s around 635 per cent. Huge, huge spikes. But there is a correlation between enrolments and places where there has been a lockdown.

“I think a lot of people are independently choosing to invest in their development because they’re in isolation. In many cases perhaps they have been furloughed, maybe their job has disappeared, or possibly they’re still working, but they can’t be as productive as they were because some of their jobs can’t be performed from home. So they’re using that additional time to invest in self-development.

“The general view is that the pace of change is accelerating; you see many, many jobs and industries today that didn’t exist 20 years ago. And if you look at all the corporate organisations that we work with the vast majority are going through some kind of digital transformation programme. They’re looking to drive a level of upskilling and reskilling and digital literacy across the organisation, with a recognition that the roles, the jobs and the skills that they need very soon are not the same set of skills or roles they need today.

“And so what we’re seeing is that on the consumer side of the platform people are reskilling because sometimes they come from a job which is just diminishing, it’s no longer relevant, and it’s been automated or impacted by artificial intelligence (AI).”

M: Are organisations moving quickly enough to close the digital skills gap and encourage lifelong learning?

AT: “We see companies that are recognising that they can’t easily acquire the skills on the open market because there aren’t enough people with the newer skills and they’re just gunning after the same things. And we see universities also now particularly with the COVID-19 crisis worrying a lot more about employability outcomes for students, and making sure that their degree programmes are job-relevant, much more so than before.

“Many of the organisations we work with see learning as a way to engage with their employees and to wrap their arms around them and in cases where they can’t be as fully productive switch their focus to learning.

“Some companies are obviously in survival mode and not thinking about investing in learning. Still, we’ve seen many others invest bigger and faster because they’ve had to do something in response to the crisis, and decisions that might have taken six months have taken them two weeks.

“During this period, if you, as a business, can survive and thrive, I think showing that investment is significant. It’s showing that you care, are aware, and that you’re doing what you can to assist, given that people may not be able to work as effectively as they were before, childcare requirements are very problematic, and people have all sorts of different personal circumstances to manage.

“Longer term, I think if you look at almost any company in the world now some people will define it as a ‘technology company powered by people’, almost regardless of the industry in which it operates. And those are the two big drivers of competitors differentiation for any company: its technology and its people. For technology to be effectively utilised, you need to have the skills to operate it and to know what to go to next.”

M: Is there anything you would like to add?

AT: “We feel genuinely honoured and humbled to be able to be working with so many organisations to help them through this period. The mission of our business is effectively to democratise access to education for all, and the vast majority of people on our platform have entirely free access to world-leading education. 

“This crisis has a positive aspect insofar as it’s furthering that mission and I think many, many people are responding to the challenge through the lens of education, which will have a long-term positive impact for the world.”