Even as a number of ed-tech start-ups have proliferated in India following the covid-induced digitisation boom, ed-tech veteran, Coursera, continues to count India as its fastest-growing market. Coursera CEO, Jeff Maggioncalda sees a market opportunity of 70 million Indian learners for Coursera’s flagship platform for universities, “Coursera for Campus.” Speaking with businessline, Maggioncalda discussed the likely future for the company, including regionalisation of premium course material to local langauges, and the use of augmented reality in digital courses. Excerpts:
India will soon be Coursera’s top market: Jeff MaggioncaldaWith 17 million subscribers, the ed tech platform is growing 34% annually
Coursera has pioneered the ed-tech space and has recently completed ten years. What are the core accomplishments of the company?
I actually feel really good about where Coursera is today. The pandemic spurred major growth. Therefore, in ten years, we have become a publicly listed company worth a couple of billion dollars, with 100 million registered learners and we generate more than half a billion dollars in revenue. Even when I benchmark against our direct competitors who started at the same time, I would much rather be Coursera (laughs). We have built a robust distribution model to deliver premium education, which is a great differentiator for our brand. We have probably got the biggest B2C base installed, which has platform effects. Our user base attracts Meta, Google, Intuit, IIT Bombay, IIM Ahmedabad and others, to offer quality content on our platform. It takes a long time to build such distribution and moreover, it is hard to create.
Which of the Coursera services are you the most excited about in the Indian context?
We launched Coursera for campus in 2019, and the launch came quite fortuituosly, right before the onset of Covid-19, enabling the product to proliferate rapidly. Starting with a presence in 30 universities before Covid-19, Coursera now boasts a presence in over 11,000 schools with 1.1 million students engaging with the product. The market potential for the service is huge, with 30 million Indian students currently enrolled in degree programmes. If the country implements the new education policy by 2035, that is another 30-35 million new students. That is going to be 75 million learners. If we do well with Coursera for campus- there is a tremendous opportunity to serve here.
We are doing extremely well with Coursera for government as well. As government’s reckon with providing relevant and good quality learning. Thus, we have been able to grab certain government projects as well. Given the number opportunities in front of Coursera, I would not want to be any other ed-tech company.
Regional learning is a big bottleneck in the ed-tech space, how are you solving for this challenge?
At the rate technology is going, I don’t think language is going to be a barrier in three years. I would venture that everything on our platform will be translated into almost any language pretty soon. Here is our language strategy. So our basic bet is that we offer quality courses from reputed brands, who will usually provide the material in English. Essentially, we want to deploy technologies, such as machine learning, to directly translate the material and localise the course. We are not doing it on our own, we are sending material to Google and Amazon Poly. But we will not be just betting on Google and Amazon, there are a lot of companies proliferating regionally, developing machine learning algorithms for their regional language requirements. We will be partnering with them in the future as well. Machine learning is evolving so fast that now translation services can replicate the exact cadence of the speaker or create deep fakes to imitate the movement of facial structure in a different language. Therefore, we will be betting on technology to help us regionalise our content.
A major hurdle for online education is that drop rates is very high- so is there a worry there?
For most people using Coursera for free, they want to check certain concepts out, they did not go there to get the credentials. If you pay for it, then you are trying to get the certificate. And so that I think is a little bit fairer. So if you look at the completion for people using it for free, it is in high single digits, for people at work is in 50 per cent, for degree programmes the completion rate is 100 per cent. In Coursera for Campus, if the course is offered against a credit, the completion rate is 95 per cent.
Are you experimenting with new technology such as metaverse or augmented reality, which will enhance the learning experience?
We just announced a few months ago, a partnership with the University of Michigan, they are going to produce 10 VR courses on Coursera on leadership and management. VR is very good, stimulating social experiences, which are good for leadership and management space, so the early application of VR is to train and teach business- social simulation, unconscious bias training, etc.