The startup that revolutionizes distance learning

The startup that revolutionizes distance learning

Coursera has changed the way of enjoying remote lessons and university courses. A transformation that reflects on the future of schools and professionals

Photo: Getty Images The digital transformation arrives in universities, perhaps the last of the sectors waiting to be revolutionized. It is not a question of simple e-learning (remember the late-night lessons on the Rai channels of the Nettuno Consortium?) Or of digital campuses, but rather of teaching designed and structured to work online, using dedicated platforms. It goes without saying that the coronavirus has accelerated everything. And half the planet students have discovered online teaching.

Coursera is an e-learning platform based in Mountain View, Silicon Valley, born from the idea of ​​two Stanford professors in 2012. All ' e-learning era was called massive open online course (Mooc) and it seemed that it should democratize access to training and revolutionize the world, spreading knowledge and skills far beyond the austere (and expensive) walls of large world universities. That's not exactly how it went, at least so far.

Pandemic effect

Coursera works with a number of Italian universities, from Bocconi to the universities of Modena and Reggio Emilia for a total of 45 Italian institutions and more than 15 thousand students involved. "After the outbreak of the coronavirus - says the managing director, Jeff Maggioncalda, - on March 12 we launched our Campus Response Initiative designed for universities that quickly needed to teach online. And we opened our Coursera for Campus courses for free: free until September. What we saw was a revolution: from 30 to 3,700 universities using Coursera, 2.4 million students, 21 million courses delivered between March and September. This at a time when, according to UNESCO, 90% of the universities on the planet were closed ".

Now Coursera has decided to continue, and after having overcome the lockdown emergency (also solving the physiological problems technicians of what was a gigantic stress test of its platform, growth of 500% in a few weeks; "But we have held up very well", says Maggioncalda), has prepared a restart with a series of new initiatives: Coursera for Campus is now " opens "with three" plans ": the" Student plan "which offers each university the possibility of providing a course free of charge for each student per year, the" Basic plan "with 20 thousand free student licenses and the" Institution plan " which provides the whole package of management of courses, materials, exercises, exams, and management of what with a euphemism is called Academic integrity and which is actually the set of procedures and technologies to prevent students from cheating and copying at exams o cer bent on altering the results of their study.

The future of teaching

The central point, however, is what will happen in the future. According to Maggioncalda, the coronavirus has broken the ice, many institutions, teachers and students have tried distance learning and a part of this experience from now on is destined to remain part of the academic curriculum of students. This transformation goes on par with remote working, which has transformed the way we think about the workplace: no longer just a physical place. The result is that both universities and companies will forever have a component of people who will participate “from afar”. And this will have physiological impacts on the shape of cities and on the places where talents are created and where these talents are sought.

"Universities have been slower, for example, than large companies that train, such as your Leonardo - says Maggioncalda - but now the change has started and will continue with mixed teaching methods ”. Guaranteed interactivity, prepared courses, exercises and exams designed for digital and no longer as photocopies of what is done in the analog world of atoms and classroom presence, is about to change the job market and the shape of cities. br>

New courses

“In the meantime - says Maggioncalda - this modality will give everyone the opportunity to enter what I believe to be the three fundamental subjects for any degree: business, computer science and data science”. Maggioncalda thinks of simple courses that offer literacy on topics such as the ability to make a business plan or read a balance sheet, the ability to use basic algorithms and the abc of programming in Python and Javascript and the basic part of statistics, visualization and presentation of data, use of artificial intelligence. “We need teachers capable of teaching these things to everyone, even those who study archeology or literature. With online courses it is now possible to do so ", says the CEO.

The second level consequences will be the explosion of training: today there are 26 thousand universities that produce recognized degrees and about 20 million students enrolled in one of these courses. Universities follow different models between different countries, but in any case they tend to have a medieval setting, which is the period in which they were born: centers of knowledge as isolated as possible from the rest of the social and geographical context. This will change, with the possibility of going to university anywhere, even on an island in the middle of the Pacific (or the Mediterranean).

Photo: AFP PHOTO / JEFF PACHOUD

Impact on cities

Training and remote work, however, mean something else, if we look at the long-term consequences: a transformation of cities (especially in Europe) and the possibility of creating companies everywhere with entrepreneurs, managers and workers following the paths more different. "We are just at the beginning," says Maggioncalda. He himself, with more than twenty years of experience as CEO of companies, converted to remote work during the lockdown: “Before, I didn't think it was the right choice for a team that needs to develop products quickly and efficiently. Now I have seen that it works and that we have been very good ".

New life possibilities are opening up: there is no need to pay stellar rents to live in big cities and companies can reach talents from all over the planet, even those who do not</a> want to leave the province where they were born. Has the era of anti-emigration begun? "The difference - says Maggioncalda - will initially be 5G but I am waiting for the broadband and low latency connection via satellite to arrive, like that of Elon Musk. That will be the real change of pace, because it will turn the Internet on to entire parts of the world it does not reach: Africa, India, Latin America, Eastern Europe, rural areas, disadvantaged areas. The Internet is as important as drinking water and electricity. Every time we talk to teachers and schools in these parts of the world they tell us the same thing: bring us the internet and we are there. Here, it's going to happen. ”

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