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Coursera Targets Non-English Speaking People With Poor Internet Connectivity

In a bustling coffee shop, Kabir Chadha, Coursera’s India Country Manager, a man with a mission, lays the online open learning company’s ambition for the country. “The ultimate goal is for a non-English speaking person with poor internet connectivity, accessing the site through a mobile phone, living in a tier-III city being able to get on Coursera,” he says.

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Coursera has already made a major splash around the world, particularly the West, with more than 15 million users actively engaging in its massive open online courses and is now eyeing India bullishly.
 
Home to its largest user base outside the US, career-oriented India provides the perfect clientele, almost tailor-made for Coursera’s business model.
 
As Chadha explains, the nature of the American and the Indian learner is intrinsically different. In the US, a large chunk of the demographic is composed of what Coursera classifies as ‘enrichment learners’ or people take up courses driven by their personal interest. On the flip-side, most Indians take up these courses because of the want to garner career-related knowledge and skills.
 
According to Coursera’s ‘Global Outcomes for Online Learners’ report, 90 per cent of Indians who took up online courses in the pursuit of career goals saw benefits such as improving candidacy for new positions or becoming better equipped for their current jobs. Furthermore, the study claimed that 36 per cent of career builders in the country actually saw tangible rewards such as improved pay, promotions and being hired.
 
With monetisation based on the sales of certification and not access to content, career-oriented individuals who are more inclined to cough up the amount to certify their completion of the course are ideal for Coursera, something that India readily provides.
 
“The key demographic here lies mostly between the ages of 20 to 25,” says Chadha, “These are people who are trying to acquire skills to find their first job or to do better at their current job. They want to show the certification to potential employers. This is their motivation and in that sense there is a greater willingness to pay for that eligibility.”
 
The Challenge Of Localisation
While there is a plethora of great content on the platform created by the likes of Stanford, Johns Hopkins, Yale, Brown and Columbia, to name a few, a significant bulwark to Coursera’s permeation in India is the challenge of localisation.
 
The company recognises that it will have to take significant strides towards localisation, in terms of content and language, if it wants to significant mark on the Indian market and beat out homegrown competition of a similar nature.
 
Chadha claims that their primary research has shown that while learners love the courses available there is a huge demand for localised content.
 
“So they actually want to see localised courses from the best universities India on the same or similar topics. This is what we are in the process of doing,” he says.
 
Last November, the learning company had announced a partnership with Indian School of Business (ISB), their first university tie up in India, to create content. Although, Coursera is keeping its cards close to it chest about the ongoing negotiations, it does delve that similar associations are a part of their roadmap for the future.
 
When it comes to the issue of language, Chadha says that the first step that is underway is the translation of courses into Hindi and then looking at other major regional languages. At the moment, the site only lists one course that has Hindi subtitles.
 
“Our strategy is two-fold.  We know that some courses are globally great so we do not want to recreate the wheel there. The best thing to do would be to translate what the professor is saying by subtitling the video and also going one step further to actually translate all the slides that are being shown, as well as the translation of the entire website experience,” he says.
 
The other option, of course, is to tie up with leading institutes that offer courses in different languages and commissioning the recreation of the same online.
 
Battling Poor Connectivity And The Future
Learners from India currently make up more than a million of the Coursera pie with the most popular categories of programmes being technology, programming and a bit of business.
 
The company has already heavily invested India and recently entered a strategic partnership with Times Internet for assistance in marketing, advertising, and strategic support to create awareness about the platform in India. 
 
The BCCL subsidiary has also invested in the educator’s Series C fundraiser.
 
The Trojan Horse to Coursera’s India thrust has been the fortification of their backend technology base to combat the widespread and persistent issue of poor internet connectivity in the country. Early on, the company realised that accessibility and speed were some things that would be essential to their success in India.
 
Most of the Coursera experience is facilitated through videos, a formula that is challenged by the data crunch, poor connectivity and the fact that most Indians’ sole or primary means of access to the internet is through their mobile phones.
 
Admitting that the platform’s technical side was a not up to the mark till a few months back, Chadha says, “Now there are several things on the platform already that allow people to have a decent experience. We have done a lot of work on the back-end infrastructure. Optimised our servers. Optimised our pages, to ensure that the page load time and the video load time is excellent. We have also made sure that everything on our mobile app loads quickly.”
 
To demonstrate, Chadha whips out his phone and loads an economics course’s video which loads impressively fast in spite of the unpredictable connectivity in the cafe.
 
Another possibility being explored by the education portal is allowing people with sub-par networks to only cache the audio bit of the lecture. This would be a move that has the potential to significantly lower the cellular data traditionally consumed.
 
Other points Coursera is looking to improve on include the nature of the course content itself. “One year from now we want to launch at least 20 to 25 specialisations from local leading Indian universities. We also want to launch what we call ‘capstone partnerships’ and industry partnerships with leading industry players in India, to make our content much more career relevant,” says Chadha.
 
“People are already taking Coursera courses for career purposes, but our goal is to keep improving its credentials. Increasing the value of that certificate that you get. One way is by Coursera having companies creating courses, another way is to get companies to encourage employees to learn on our platform,” adds Chadha, offering an insight into the company’s India strategy.
 
Summing up, he says, “The message that we want to put out is: If you want to get ahead in your career — Coursera. If you want to learn from the best professors in the world — Coursera. And all this is free in terms of access, we only charge for certification. For a few thousand the value that we give is immense.”
 


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