52% of Coursera’s 2021 new registered learners in the UK are women

Coursera, Inc. (@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 the UK are learning online at higher rates compared to pre-pandemic, representing 52% of new learners in 2021, up from 46% in 2019, according to Coursera data. This places the UK at 7th globally in terms of highest number of women learners, with more women also participating in certificate training programs aimed at entry-level digital jobs.

The unemployment crisis caused by the pandemic and automation has disproportionately impacted women. According to the PwC Women in Work 2021 Report, despite women only comprising 48% of the workforce, more women than men were furloughed between July and October 2020. Of the 15.3 million jobs furloughed in the country, out of those for which gender was known, 52% were women’s jobs. If the current UK furlough is indicative of future unemployment trends, a larger number of women will face risk of job loss than men once the furlough support scheme ends. Despite the difficult labour market conditions, women increased their investment in learning new skills on Coursera during the pandemic. 

“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.” 

UK insights from the Women and Skills Report include: 

  • Women are turning to online education at higher rates than pre-pandemic. The UK has the highest number of registered women learners on Coursera in Europe and ranks 7th globally. In 2020, a peak of 57% of new registered UK learners were women. While this share is at 52% in 2021, it still represents a significant increase from 46% in 2019. Mobile learning usage in the UK is also higher amongst women (41%) than for men (36%). 
  • More women are enrolling in STEM courses and entry-level Professional Certificates. For STEM courses, the gender gap narrowed from 34% enrollments from women in the UK in 2019 to 41% in 2021. Women’s enrollments in entry-level Professional Certificates have also increased from 28% in 2019 to 39% 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 UK women show a balanced investment in human and digital skills. The top 10 skills from the past year include communication (230,000 enrollments from UK women), leadership and management (230,000), and entrepreneurship (190,000). The interest in these skills is encouraging, as The Rose Review found that £250 billion of new value could be added to the UK economy if women started and scaled new businesses at the same rate as UK men. Women are also investing in STEM skills like probability and statistics (280,000), computer programming (170,000), and machine learning (200,000), with Machine Learning from Stanford University a top course among women in the UK.
  • Businesses, governments, and campuses can play a key role in reducing gender gaps in learning. In 2021 programs where various governments and campuses use Coursera in the UK, there was a share of women registered learners of 46% and 51%, respectively. Among businesses, women now constitute 37% of UK learners. Better gender share is likely to contribute to more diverse talent pipelines for employers. According to research from McKinsey, the most gender diverse teams are 48% more likely to outperform the least gender-diverse companies.

Global insights from the Women and Skills Report include: 

  • Women learners enrol 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 per cent of enrollments from women learners are in courses with women instructors, compared to 38% for men learners. The most popular women instructors on Coursera include Laurie Santos (The Science of Wellbeing, Yale University), Seung Hae Kang (First Step Korean, Yonsei University), and Dr. Rosa I. Arriaga (Introduction to User Experience, Georgia Institute of Technology). 
  • 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% increase in share of lifetime enrollments from women), listing most common mistakes for peer-reviewed assignments (+16%), and distributing assessments throughout a course (+8%). 

“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.” 

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.

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