2022 Outlook: The promise of online learning for an inclusive recovery

Online learning provides all-important flexibility for women balancing careers with personal commitments 


AFTER 20 months of pandemic-induced economic upheaval, we are seeing recovery. In Malaysia, the decline in Covid-19 infections, positive vaccination progress and businesses resuming operations at a greater capacity are encouraging trends. The employment rate also hit a new high in September. 

Indeed, we’ve seen public and private organisations rallying, innovating and thriving. As the Covid dust settles around us, we see signs of enduring changes to the way we learn, teach and work that will help solve the crisis of rising inequality and accelerating skill challenge. 

Removing Barriers with Remote Work

Until now, “location” has been central to choice and opportunity in the labour market, drawing high-skilled workers to industry clusters and concentrating top talent in a few thriving hubs. That is fast changing. The shift we experienced during the pandemic has decisively challenged the notion that jobs need to be location-bound. 

With the rise of remote work and unfettered movement of talent — for the first time — anyone can work from anywhere in the world. In May this year, Microsoft Corp reported that 62% business leaders in Malaysia are considering redesigning office space for hybrid work. 

Removing geography from the equation not only lets employers tap into a much broader talent pool, but also dramatically opens up opportunities to people who need greater flexibility at work due to caregiving responsibilities and to those outside traditional employment hubs. 

A survey by Cisco Systems Inc revealed that 88% of Malaysian workers want greater ownership and choice in the new world of work. 

Embracing Classrooms of The Future

When the crisis hit, many Malaysiancampusesrapidlyadaptedby integrating plug and play online courseware from leading global institutions into their curriculum. As campuses needed to ramp up in no time, they leveraged the high-quality courses that matched their curricula. 

But beyond ensuring learning continuity, this has become a way for colleges to provide students with consistently upgraded, up-to-date education. Integrating hybrid models would allow universities to continuously refresh offerings, keeping pace with technology shifts and building industry-relevant skills to improve students’ employability. 

In Malaysia, Brickfields Asia College Education Group is already seeing success with such a model. The group partnered with Coursera Inc to provide access to “the best digital resources in the world” online from world-class universities and enhance student learning outcomes and experience. Professors have noted that students are going above and beyond the pre-scribed curriculum. They are more self-motivated to take courses and build on their interests, developing the skills they need for a future-proof career. 

Evolving Credentials for Greater Inclusion

In a tough economy, learners will increasingly need flexible, affordable ways to earn an education that simultaneously improves their career prospects (Pic : Muhd Amin Naharul/TMR)

Online programmes have evolved to be more inclusive to support the needs of non-traditional learners. One of the outcomes of this evolution, micro-credentials, is now helping unemployed workers land on their feet. 

In Malaysia, enrolments in job-relevant entry-level professional certifications spiked by 75% last year on Coursera, given their demand and value among job seekers. 

In a tough economy, learners will increasingly need flexible, affordable ways to earn an education that simultaneously improves their career prospects. 

Online professional certifications are versatile in helping learners master job skills that lead to immediate opportunities, while also creating a longer-term “stackable” pathway to a full-fledged degree. 

The Google IT Support Professional Certificate, for instance, equips learners for entry-level roles in IT and is also recognised by top-ranked colleges, including the University of London and Northeastern University which offer university credit towards an online bachelor’s degree for learners who complete the programme. 

Over 700,000 learners who have enrolled in the certificate programme come from non-traditional backgrounds — 59% don’t have a college degree, and over half identify themselves as black, Latino, female or veteran. 

Bringing Gender Parity in Education and Job Opportunity

Encouraging gender diversity in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education — which affects representation in digital jobs — has been an ongoing challenge for educators. 

However, new findings reveal that the gender dynamics for STEM learning could evolve differently online. 

STEM courses enrolments among women learners in Malaysia increased from 29% in 2019 to a significant 36% in 2021, according to Coursera’s Women and Skills Report 2021. 

With STEM courses accounting for many foundational digital skills, Malaysian women aren’t the only ones improving their “employability” for the jobs of the future by developing these critical skills online. This trend is unfolding across the globe as more women reskill for better job opportunities in the tech-driven knowledge economy. 

By knocking down location and time barriers, online learning provides all-important flexibility for women balancing careers with personal commitments, by fitting learning into their lives. 

Modular content also amplifies the convenience for such learners, to learn in chunks, at their own pace. 

The world of work and education is at an inflection point. We have the opportunity to make real changes that allow more Malaysians to benefit from the economic promise of a digital future. 

Given the magnitude of the crisis, institutions, governments and organisations will have to collaborate and harness new ways to bring equity and improve access to skills, ensuring inclusive recovery. 

Creating flexible pathways to skilling and well-paying remote jobs will be an important piece of the puzzle. 

  • Raghav Gupta is the MD for Coursera Inc (Asia Pacific). 
  • The views expressed are of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the stand of the newspaper’s owners and editorial board.