New Coursera Study Indicates a Narrowing Gender Gap in Online Learning in India

Women and Skills report

Coursera, one of the largest online learning platforms in the world, released a new study that examines the pandemic’s impact on skills and learning trends among women.

The Women and Skills Report compares pre-pandemic enrollment and performance data with trends observed on the Coursera platform since the onset of the pandemic through June 2021. Women in India are learning online at higher rates compared to pre-pandemic, representing 44% of new learners in 2021, up from 37% in 2019, according to Coursera data. With 4.8 million registered women learners, India ranks 2nd worldwide for the highest number of registered women learners on Coursera.

The World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report 2021 indicates that the pandemic has disproportionately impacted women in India, with the country ranking 28 ranks lower than in 2020. The reasons contributing to the widening gender gap include a decrease in women's labor force participation rate to 22.3%, women’s inadequate representation in technology and leadership, and a lagging female to male literacy ratio. However, during this period, women increased their investment in learning new skills on Coursera despite the more difficult labor market conditions.

Commenting on the study, Jeff Maggioncalda, Coursera CEO, said in a statement,

"Our research suggests that gender gaps in online learning narrowed during the pandemic, even as gender employment gaps widened. We are encouraged by how women are embracing online learning to develop new skills that can help accelerate their return to work and promote economic mobility."

India insights from the Women and Skills Report include:

  • Women are turning to online education at higher rates than pre-pandemic. India has 4.8 million registered women learners on Coursera, the second-highest of all 190 countries globally. In 2020, a peak of 44% of new registered Indian learners were women, and the growth continues to sustain through 2021. Overall, 38% of total learners in India today are women, up from 24% in 2016. The median age of Indian women learners on Coursera is 27, four years younger than the global median age of 31.
  • More women are enrolling in STEM courses and entry-level Professional Certificates. In India, the share of overall course enrollments from women increased from 26% in 2019 to 36% in 2021. For STEM courses, the gender gap narrowed from 23% enrollments from women in 2019 to 32% in 2021. Women’s enrollments in entry-level Professional Certificates have gone up from 22% in 2019 to 30% in 2021. These certificates, from industry leaders such as Google, IBM, and Facebook, are designed to prepare learners without a college degree or technology experience for a wide range of high-demand digital jobs.
  • Top skills among Indian women show a balanced investment in human and digital skills. Four out of the top five skills are STEM skills, like computer programming (2M enrollments from Indian women), machine learning (1.9 M), probability and statistics (1.8M), and theoretical computer science (1.6M). The top 10 skills from the past year also include critical business and personal development skills, like communication (1.5M), leadership and management (1.1M), and entrepreneurship (1M). Top courses teach job-relevant skills, including Programming for Everybody (Getting Started with Python) from the University of Michigan, Machine Learning from Stanford University, English for Career Development from the University of Pennsylvania, and Financial Markets from Yale University.
  • Product innovations help grow women’s participation in online learning. Mobile is an incredibly powerful tool ensuring flexibility in learning. Sixty-two percent of women learners (as compared to 48% globally) in India access Coursera on mobile devices, one of the highest worldwide. Other factors contributing to enrollment increases from women include adding practice quizzes before challenging assessments, listing most common mistakes for peer-reviewed assignments, and distributing assessments throughout a course.

Betty Vandenbosch, Chief Content Officer at Coursera, added,

"I earned my computer science degree with only a handful of women alongside me, and while a great deal has changed since then, we still have important work to do to increase women’s representation in technology and leadership. Access to flexible, job-relevant education can help women learn the new skills they need to enter high-demand roles and achieve better gender balance in the workforce."

With over 87 million learners and 5,000 courses on the platform, Coursera has one of the largest data sets for identifying and measuring skill trends. The Women and Skills Report includes data from 40 million new learners who registered during the pandemic between January 1, 2020, and June 30, 2021.

About the Author
Author: Stephen Soulunii
Stephen Soulunii No more a student, but love to learn. Not a teacher, but care about how students are taught. Not an educator, but want everyone to be educated. Not a social worker, but desire to see change. Not a reformer, but always want to see a better world. The author believes that only sound education can bring a better future, better world and technology can help achieve a lot in this field.

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