Interview with Leah Belsky, VP of Enterprise: Coursera’s Middle East Expansion to Fuel Region’s Knowledge Economy

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Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) platforms seek to innovate the business models of the traditional higher education industry by providing free and open-access online courses at a large scale.

The Middle East Online Education market is expected to expand at a CAGR of 9.8% during the forecast period 2017-2023. The market growth is likely to be driven by the huge government investment and rapid adoption of online education and e-learning by educational institutes and corporate organizations.

Coursera, one of the leading online learning platform last month announced its expansion into the Middle East region, with the opening of an office in Abu Dhabi.

We had the chance to interview Leah Belsky, VP of Enterprise at Coursera, who spoke on the online learning market, why they are setting up a base in the Middle East, coursera’s offerings, how they will be supporting workforce development in the region and help build a knowledge-powered economy.

Here are the excerpts from the interview:

How big is the Middle East/GCC MOOC market?

Technology is transforming traditional forms of learning, opening the door for Massive Open Online Courses (MOOC) and online learning around the world. The Middle East is no exception — with increased connectivity and several public sector-backed initiatives to drive digital transformation, the region is primed for online learning. More specifically, the online education market in the Middle East is expected to expand at a CAGR of 9.8% between 2017-2023. This growth will likely be driven by continued public sector investment and rapid adoption of online education and e-learning by educational institutes and corporate organizations. Regional demand for online learning is also evident on the Coursera platform, which currently has over 2 million learners in the Middle East among our 38 million learners globally.

Coursera is an online learning platform. Why are you setting up a base in the Middle East?

As the world’s largest online learning platform, we recognize that it is absolutely important to invest in the Middle East, to serve the people and its youth, and to support the region’s ambition of emerging as a knowledge-driven economy.

We believe that access to transformative learning will be critical for developing a workforce that is prepared to lead this economic transition. We recently launched our enterprise platform, Coursera for Business, in the Middle East to partner with leading government and private organizations and upskill local talent in high-demand fields like machine learning, artificial intelligence, and software development. We are also thrilled to be opening an office in Abu Dhabi to serve our growing client base locally.

In addition to serving companies of all sizes in the region, we will continue to support our 2 million learners in the Middle East. To make our content accessible to all learners in the region, we recently translated 100 of our courses into Arabic, with more to come.

What is Coursera’s USP and how do you compare with your competitors like Udemy and Lynda?

We’re all working to improve educational access, in different ways. As the world’s largest online learning platform with 38 million learners, we are leading the way in enabling top universities, companies, and learners to reach each other and create value.

Learners worldwide come to Coursera because of our high-quality content. 190 of the world’s leading university and industry educators partner with Coursera to offer courses, Specializations, and degrees that enable learners around the world to achieve their career goals. Each credential is designed to suit the individual needs of learners and help them achieve their educational goals, whether that is learning something new, mastering a skill, becoming job ready, or earning a top quality degree. We also offer a superior learning experience — engaging features like our easy-to-use mobile app makes Coursera flexible and accessible for any learner.

Coursera has got an impressive client list here in the Middle East including Abu Dhabi School of Government, DEWA, Etihad Airways and TECOM Group. How does Coursera help these companies with their workforce development goals?

Coursera for Business has helped over 1,800 organizations worldwide achieve their workforce development goals by delivering a transformative learning solution. We work closely with each business to facilitate three critical steps for workforce development: identifying the upskilling needs of their workforce, building a curated learning program drawn from a world-class course catalogue, and delivering a dynamic learning experience.

We are thrilled to be partnering with leading government and private organizations in the Middle East to support workforce development in the region. Our innovative partnership with the Abu Dhabi School of Government (ADSG), for example, will train 60,000 government employees on cutting-edge skills like data science, Artificial Intelligence, and digital transformation. We hope this will serve as a model for public sector skills transformation, both globally and the region.

Looking ahead, we will continue to work with both public and private organizations in the Middle East to upskill local talent in high-demand fields. This includes organizations of all sizes, including the 38 small and medium-sized business in the region that also use Coursera.

How is Coursera contributing to the region’s ambition to emerge as a knowledge-powered economy?

The Middle East is going through a major economic transition, shifting its industrial base from natural resources to one driven by technology and innovation. As new jobs emerge from this shift, local and regional skills must continuously be developed to keep pace with the rate of change. By offering high-quality content in career skills like artificial intelligence, software engineering, data science, and many more, Coursera facilitates the transformative learning needed for individuals, companies, and governments to remain competitive in the new economy.

How is the online learning platform evolving and what are the challenges?

In the past, the status quo for learning was anything but lifelong. Those with access to education typically spent only the first part of their lives learning — they graduated from higher education or a bachelor’s degree, found a career, and never looked back. But with the way we work quickly evolving and challenging the skills that once were relevant, access to high quality, lifelong learning will be essential to remaining competitive. This challenge, coupled with the rising cost of traditional on-campus programs, has made the education industry ripe for innovation.

Another challenge the industry faces is making online learning available to nontraditional learners that may face barriers in accessing higher education. From stackable credentials that count towards a degree to an online bachelor’s degree program, we are committed to finding more channels and opportunities to reach these learners. Online learning platforms like Coursera are the solution to bridging these skills gaps and ensuring that continuous learning is more accessible and affordable than ever before.

How different is the Middle East compared to other markets?

The Middle East market doesn’t differ from other regions that use Coursera in terms of requirements and the course catalogue. However, like other US companies, we are subject to US laws and regulations, which may limit access to courses for certain countries.

With a strong community of 2 million learners in the Middle East, we are committed to making our platform regionally accessible through features like our mobile app for on-the-go learning or localized content like our 100 Arabic-translated courses.

We will also continue to offer content that caters to regional learning interests. When it comes to the Middle East, Coursera data shows that learners are particularly interested in courses in the business, data science, and technology domains. With recent launches like the Self-Driving Cars Specialization from University of Toronto and AI for Everyone from Andrew Ng’s, we will continue to enable learners in the Middle East to access the high-quality education needed to reach their career goals.


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