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Coursera for Manipal—Sitting down with Mr Raghav Gupta

2018: With the boom of the World Wide Web, the online world, today, is a gateway to a life full of amenities. Whether it’s daily groceries, plumbers and technicians, clothes, books, or even online education—the web has it all.

Coursera is one of the top global leaders in providing online education to millions of learners across different countries. With a first of its kind collaboration between Coursera and MAHE under the ‘Coursera for Manipal’ program, students associated with MAHE can now gain free access to thousands of courses spanning different areas of interest.  No additional payment for certificates is required by the learners under this program. This is a golden opportunity for students as MAHE is currently the only institute in the world to have a collaboration of this kind. A staggering 1,362 students have already completed at least one course and out of these, 1,019 are students of MIT.

We got a chance to exchange a few words with Mr Raghav Gupta, Director-APAC at Coursera. Mr Gupta, a visionary leader, talks to us about online education, Coursera, and how this is a great opportunity for students of MAHE.

It is the age of technology. How do you think technology and Coursera can together make learning a better experience?

There are three things that are relevant to this question. Firstly, consider a student studying one particular field, say MBA. There are still other domains and topics that they need to be aware of because of the tremendous changes happening in the world around us. For example, when I was pursuing my MBA, there was nothing called Data Science. A management student may not necessarily be thinking about this as a subject but it’s quite important for them. Also, students may not be given access to such content on campus. So, online learning comes into play here, which provides a very large platform for students to explore such domains.

Secondly, there are a large number of experts who work as professors or industry practitioners in certain parts of the world. So far, till about four-five years ago, access to them was not possible in the physical world. However, due to online teaching, students are now able to approach these renowned minds. Andrew Ng, the co-founder of Coursera and a professor at Stanford, has a machine learning course on Coursera that now caters to about 2 million people all over the world. Students are thus able to gain access to some of the best educational resources online.

Thirdly, in my opinion, online learning helps to inculcate the habit of self-learning and online education in people. It has changed the world from a situation where one would go to college followed by work and thus would never think about learning to a world where lifelong learning is possible.

What’s the acceptability of Coursera courses among Indian companies, especially while recruiting at entry levels? Will Coursera learners get a preference?

Coursera sees a very strong acceptance in India. There are a number of macro and specific reasons behind this. Globally, there are about 30-31 million learners on the Coursera platform. The US has the largest number of people who are engaged in our courses. India has about 3 million learners and this is a very large quantity. Also, all our university partners, like Yale, Stanford, Wharton, and the other incredible university partners that we have are very well recognized in India. The number of Indian students at these institutes is also quite large. So clearly we see a lot of strong acceptance of the Coursera content in the country.

From a career point of view, it’s a great signalling mechanism for recruiters. So, say I am looking for a job in marketing after my MBA and along with my regular classroom course, I have undertaken courses by leading universities. Then it’s a signalling mechanism to say that I am well qualified for the job.

In terms of specific data, Coursera certificates are the second most popular certificates globally. The reason so many people put them up on LinkedIn is that they’re so widely accepted.

Can you help us understand more about the degrees offered via Coursera? What is the eligibility criteria? Are students of MAHE under the Coursera for Manipal program eligible to apply for these degree programs?

Over the last year or so, we’ve offered online degrees to our learners. Today there are about eleven of these and are largely master degrees. Leading universities offer degrees in the domains of Computer Science, Data Science, MBA, and Public Health. The University of Illinois has also offered a few degrees on the Coursera platform. Sometimes, students or career professionals are unable to spend time on a campus for a degree in a particular program. The idea is to make these available to people online with a similar kind of experience.

Coursera for Manipal program allows Manipal students to access the courses and specializations on Coursera. Online degrees have a special application and a selection process. Manipal students have to undertake this selection process. While courses are available to all, the degrees require the students to clear the application and selection process.

You have competition from a lot of other companies, such as edX and Udacity. What is your plan to remain at the top of the game? What sets you apart from them?

Essentially, all of us at Coursera are highly focused and aspire to deliver high-quality education to learners around the world. A lot of the new content that comes on the platform and the online experience that you see on Coursera comes up with that mission in mind. From a career standpoint of view, the content on Coursera comes in four brackets. These are Business and Management, Computer Science, Data Science, and Personal Health Development. I think the reason why we have a leadership position in the online learning space, is that we are able to deliver to the learners’ expectations both in terms of online learning material and the experience.

You yourself are an entrepreneur. How do you think Coursera will be able to help budding entrepreneurs?

From an entrepreneurship standpoint, one-way Coursera can help an individual is by providing some fantastic learning opportunities. Entrepreneurship is a fuzzy topic. There is no list of steps to run a successful business. However, certain content on our platform can certainly prove to be of great help.

There are numerous students who have taken courses related to data sciences and programming languages and do not belong to a technical background. How does Coursera help them in this transition?

I think it is really fascinating that today learners can study topics of their interest. These opportunities were not available a few years ago. In my opinion, one way by which we can help people is by enabling easy discovery. Say, you’re a medical student wanting to pursue a program in digital marketing. It will be easy for you to come to Coursera and find the relevant content here. Also, the next step is to ensure that the learning experience is engaging enough. We want to completely fulfil a student’s curiosity to learn. So an art student studying a science program should not feel disappointed.

How is Coursera different from a regular classroom course?

I think our courses and specializations are complementary to what students learn on campus. You might be doing a marketing course at a university and we may supplement that with a digital marketing course. There is thus a strong complementarity that exists. Obviously, the experience is quite different. On Coursera, you can always rewind the lectures and understand a topic numerous times.

What exciting new products will Coursera come up with in the future?

Essentially, we are trying to advance both in terms of content and the online learning experience. We will bring in new and fresh content. Coursera has been traditionally known for its university courses. Now, we will try and include more of industry content. For example, there is content from Google on the Google Cloud and IBM is offering courses on Internet objects. So we want to keep on adding content. Also, the online learning experience is going to get more and more engaging and will be powered by machine learning and AI, thus making this whole process very intuitive.

What is your message to the students and faculty of MAHE and MAHE Dubai?

Students today have an amazing opportunity to study courses both on campus and online. I wish I had this during my graduation and post-graduation days. I would encourage everyone to fully use the chance to study courses online. It is completely understandable that students have a lot of workload and studying an extra course might not be easy. However, if people want to utilize this opportunity, they must do so.

Coursera offers numerous courses on various topics. Management, data analysis, programming languages, or even self-development—a student from any stream can undertake any course. With renowned professors from some of the world’s leading universities teaching these courses, Coursera for Manipal is probably one of the greatest learning resources for students at MAHE today.

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