Coursera’s online platform breaks education barriers with nearly 1m registered learners in KSA

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Jeddah - Yasmine El Tohamy - RIYADH: The US-based open online course provider Coursera is rapidly expanding its presence in Saudi Arabia, with a key focus on offering global programs in the local language.

Founded in 2012 by Daphne Koller and Andrew Ng, Coursera aimed to provide life-transforming learning experiences to individuals worldwide. Since then, it has grown significantly, attracting approximately 130 million individuals globally.

Particularly in Saudi Arabia, the platform boasts close to a million registered learners, underscoring its significant impact on the region’s education landscape.

Founded in 2012 by Daphne Koller and Andrew Ng, Coursera has grown significantly, attracting approximately 130 million individuals globally. (Supplied)

In an interview with Arab News, Coursera’s CEO Jeff Maggioncalda, revealed that the platform now has 997,000 registered learners in Saudi Arabia. He further announced that, following a recent language translation initiative, 4,000 courses on Coursera are now fully translated into Arabic.

These courses include some of the most popular ones in Saudi Arabia, such as “How to Learn from Deep Teaching Solutions,” “Introduction to Data Analytics” from IBM, and “Successful Negotiation: Essential Strategies and Skills” from the University of Michigan.

On the platform, learners can access course readings, lecture video subtitles, quizzes, assessments, peer review instructions, and discussion prompts, all in the local language.  

Coursera also works closely with the National E-Learning Center, a national platform in Saudi Arabia serving both individuals and institutions.

Jeff Maggioncalda, Coursera CEO

This extensive translation effort aims to break down language barriers and enhance the learning experience for Arab-speaking students.

Maggioncalda also revealed the platform’s substantial growth in the Kingdom, where accessibility, affordability, and advancements in artificial intelligence technology are breaking down barriers to education.  

Forging partnerships

One of the pivotal strategies employed by Coursera in Saudi Arabia is forming partnerships with various institutions.

Maggioncalda elaborated on this, explaining: “One way to create access is working through universities. I was just in Riyadh last week with Prince Sultan University, and they are using Coursera to integrate courses on Coursera into their college degree program so that students at PSU actually take courses on Coursera and they can get credit towards their degree.”

In addition to educational institutions, the platform has forged partnerships with companies through Coursera for business.

“That’s something we do with companies like Saudi where the access is given because the company wants to upskill and reskill their employees.”  

What really has been the key to better serving more of the population are strategic relationships, says Jeff Maggioncalda, Coursera CEO

The CEO revealed that the academy works with a number of employers in Saudi Arabia, including Saudi Telecom Co., the Saudi Central Bank, Saudi Cement, Royal Commission for AlUla.

Maggioncalda detailed the collaborations with government institutions, saying: “We have worked with KAUST, which has undertaken a number of programs where the government basically works with KAUST to put together programs in cybersecurity, programs in AI, that KAUST delivers to Saudis around the country using Coursera, and it does not cost anything for the individual.”

“What really has been the key to better serving more of the population are strategic relationships,” he explained.  

These strategic relationships and collaborations with institutions like the National E-Learning Center and the Ministry of Computers and Information Technology have paved the way for Coursera’s expansion in Saudi Arabia."

Maggioncalda revealed: “The most recent thing that we’re very excited about is we just launched a new program with the Ministry of Computers and Information Technology, the MCIT.”

“The program is called Fuel. And basically, MCIT is going to be training 100,000 Saudis for free, no cost to the citizens with 200 different courses on 40 tracks of different skill domains,” he explained.

Coursera also works closely with NELC, a national platform in Saudi Arabia serving both individuals and institutions.  

Maggioncalda emphasized NELC’s role as a major partner and announced Coursera’s establishment of a legal entity in Saudi Arabia, with plans to hire local employees.

“So, from the kinds of courses, the translations, the institutional partnerships, the financial affordability, by delivering this through certain government agencies and even now establishing Coursera operations in Saudi Arabia, these are all ways that we are investing in the region to better serve the people of the region.”

The CEO expressed optimism about the future of online learning in Saudi Arabia, stating: “I think that the growth, if we look at how it’s grown in the past few years among every country in the world, Saudi Arabia is growing faster than 90 percent of them.”

This growth is driven by Saudi Arabia’s strong commitment to human capital development as part of Vision 2030.

Maggioncalda anticipates that by the end of 2023, the platform will reach the milestone of 1 million learners in Saudi Arabia.

Coursera’s commitment to reducing barriers to education is evident in several key initiatives. To enhance accessibility, Coursera has introduced innovative features such as Coursera Coach, a personal tutor using ChatGPT technology.

Maggioncalda described this new feature, stating, “It’s called Coursera Coach, and this is basically ChatGPT built into Coursera so that every learner, while they're taking the course, has a personal tutor that they can ask questions to, to get answers and to help learn the material.”

Moreover, the platform is piloting Course Builder, which allows instructors to create customized courses tailored to their students’ needs, enabling instructors to add their own content and combine lectures from different courses on Coursera.

Coursera plans to launch the Generative AI Academy, offering courses that help leaders and professionals understand the strategic and organizational implications of AI advancements.  

Maggioncalda outlined the academy’s offerings, including courses designed for everyone to understand the implications of AI and how organizations will change. Additionally, specific courses will address how AI will impact job roles, such as those of digital marketers and software engineers.

Recognizing the need to support individuals seeking career transitions, Coursera is introducing the Career Academy, helping individuals start new careers in high-demand job fields.

Notably, 57 percent of learners in Saudi Arabia opt for mobile-based learning, indicating a young and emerging cohort of early-career professionals who prefer mobile platforms for their educational pursuits.

In terms of the impact in the Middle East and North Africa region, Maggioncalda revealed that 82 percent of surveyed learners expressed that Coursera has benefited their careers, and 99 percent expressed their intention to continue studying on Coursera.

Amid a changing world and rapid technological advancements, Coursera is ensuring that both individuals and institutions can leverage the opportunities offered by online learning, thereby promoting equal access to education and career development.



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