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New Coursera Study Indicates a Narrowing Gender Gap in Online Learning

The Women and Skills Report captures the pandemic’s impact on learning trends among women.

Coursera, Inc., 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 and gives insight on the narrowing gender gap in online learning. 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 the U.S. are learning online at higher rates compared to pre-pandemic. They represent 52 percent of new learners in 2021, up from 47 percent in 2019, according to Coursera data. More women are also participating in certificate training programs aimed at entry-level digital jobs.

The unemployment crisis caused by the pandemic has disproportionately impacted women. As of February 2021, women accounted for the majority of the decrease in U.S. labor force participation. This is true despite the fact that women make up less than half of the workforce. According to the August 2021 Jobs Report, there are over 1.6 million fewer women in the labor force today compared to February 2020. However, during this period, women increased their investment in learning new skills on Coursera. They managed to do this despite the more difficult labor market conditions.

“Our research suggests that gender gaps in online learning narrowed during the pandemic, even as gender employment gaps widened,” said Jeff Maggioncalda, Coursera CEO. “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.”

A narrowing gender gap and other insights

U.S. insights from the Women and Skills Report include:

Women are turning to online education at higher rates than pre-pandemic

The U.S. has 8.6 million registered women learners on Coursera, the highest of all countries globally. In 2020, a peak of 62 percent of new registered U.S. learners were women. While this share is at 52 percent in 2021, it still represents a significant increase from 47 percent in 2019.

More women are enrolling in STEM courses and entry-level Professional Certificates

In the U.S., the share of overall course enrollments from women increased from 42 percent in 2019 to 49 percent in 2021. For STEM courses, the gender gap narrowed from 35 percent enrollments from women in 2019 to 42 percent in 2021. Women’s enrollments in entry-level Professional Certificates have gone up from 27 percent in 2019 to 43 percent in 2021. These certificates prepare learners without a college degree or technology experience for a wide range of high-demand digital jobs. Industry leaders such as Google, IBM and Facebook offer certificates.

Top skills among U.S. women show a balanced investment in human and digital skills

Top 10 skills from the past year include leadership skills. Some examples are communication (1.9M enrollments from U.S. women), management (1.8M) and entrepreneurship (1.4M). Women are also investing in STEM skills, like probability and statistics (1.6M), computer programming (1.1M) and theoretical computer science (1M). Top courses teach job-relevant and personal development skills, like COVID-19 Contact Tracing from Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and The Science of Wellbeing from Yale University.

Businesses, governments and campuses can play a key role in reducing gender gaps in learning

In 2021 programs where Coursera is used by various governments and campuses in the U.S., there were higher shares of women registered learners (57 percent and 54 percent respectively) compared to the U.S. overall (51 percent). Better gender share is likely to contribute to more diverse talent pipelines for employers. Among businesses, women now constitute 32 percent of U.S. learners.

Women learners enroll more than men in courses taught by women instructors

Instructor representation is one of the most important factors contributing to increases in women’s enrollments. Forty-nine percent of enrollments from women learners are in courses with women instructors. Thirty-eight percent of enrollments from men learners are in courses with women instructors. The most popular women instructors include Laurie Santos (The Science of Wellbeing), Seung Hae Kang (First Step Korean), and Dr. Rosa I. Arriaga (Introduction to User Experience Design).

Product innovations help grow women’s participation in online learning

 Factors contributing to enrollment increases from women include adding practice quizzes before challenging assessments (+12 percent increase in share of lifetime enrollments from women), listing most common mistakes for peer-reviewed assignments (+16 percent) and distributing assessments throughout a course (+8 percent).

Making strides towards reducing the gender gap

“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,” said Betty Vandenbosch, Chief Content Officer at Coursera. “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.”

Coursera has over 87 million learners and 5,000 courses on its platform. It 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. They registered during the pandemic between January 1, 2020 and June 30, 2021.

To download the full report and explore the global and regional findings, visit the Coursera website here.

About Coursera

Stanford Computer Science professors Andrew Ng and Daphne Koller launched Coursera in 2012. Its mission is to provide universal access to world-class learning. It is now one of the largest online learning platforms in the world, with 87 million registered learners as of June 30, 2021. Coursera partners with over 200 leading university and industry partners to offer a broad catalog of content and credentials, including courses, Specializations, Professional Certificates, Guided Projects and bachelor’s and master’s degrees. Institutions around the world use Coursera to upskill and reskill their employees, citizens and students in fields such as data science, technology and business. Coursera became a B Corp in February 2021.

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