Coursera’s CEO Wants its Chatbot to Become Your Personal Tutor

Five minutes with the head of the online education platform on remote learning trends, the top skills and why a four-day week won’t work for his company.

| Updated on: Aug 03 2023, 07:13 IST
Coursera CEO wants to enhance learning with AI tutors. (Pexels)
Coursera CEO wants to enhance learning with AI tutors. (Pexels)

Coursera Inc.'s chief executive officer Jeff Maggioncalda wants to give you an AI-generated personal tutor.

The online learning platform has recently launched Coach, a chatbot tool that plugs into ChatGPT. It answers questions by sifting through and summarizing Coursera's entire curriculum.

Maggioncalda offers up a quick demo to start off our interview. “Can you explain in terms that a 10-year old would understand what a convolutional neural network is,” he asks.

And the AI coach almost instantly responds via text. “Imagine you have a picture of a car and you want to find out where the car is in the picture. One way to do this is to look at small parts of the picture one at a time and see if any of those parts look like a car. This is called a sliding window. A convolutional, neural sliding window is a way to do this more efficiently using a computer. Instead of looking at every single small part of the picture, the computer looks at groups of small parts all at once.”

Coursera is investing in such generative AI because it's changing how teaching is conducted, both in person and remotely, in schools and universities, Maggioncalda says. In 2017, McKinsey estimated 15% of work done by trainers, teachers and professors would be affected by AI based on the existing technology. The arrival of generative AI has pushed that forecast to 54%.

Work Shift talked to Maggioncalda about remote learning post Covid, the hot skills to learn how and why he's not switching to a four-day week anytime soon. (Responses are edited and condensed.)

Many people enrolled in online courses during Covid. What does remote learning look like now?

It's more hybrid. Online learning is now a part of almost all educational systems as well as workforce development efforts from governments. Then there's generative AI. The faster things are changing, the more the need to learn new skills. The pandemic was a huge step forward in how fast things changed. Customers not walking into shops anymore and remote working pushed up demand for digital skills. Now generative AI is another accelerant.

Besides the chatbot, what are the other ways you're using AI?

We're helping clients create their own courses on any topic using AI. And AI is also getting very good at translations. We're translating 2,500 courses into seven different languages by the end of the year. This means that people all around the world, including those who don't speak English, will have access to all these courses that were originally created in English.

What do the top courses tell us about the job market?

AI courses are doing really well. I don't know how many AI builders we're really going to have, it's a lot more the people who are going to be using AI tools. We also see the biggest driver of our consumer segment is people taking courses to switch to digital-based careers like data science, software engineering, IT support and digital marketing.

In the UK, for example, we have three million learners (individuals and corporations). That's up about 20% year on year. The top courses in the UK are foundations of data, foundations of project management, the science of well-being, foundations of user experience, technical support. People are really thinking, I want to make more money, I want to have more flexibility. These digital jobs are in high demand, but you need to be skilled up for them.

Are companies cutting down on training due to recession fears?

If we look at the UK, the proportion of firms intending to increase investment in training and development over the next year has fallen to only 38% of companies in 2022 from 53% in 2021. This is the recession, right? The UK economy has obviously been struggling quite a bit. You've got to cut budgets and one of the first places people are cutting is in education.

Besides macro effects, which take a longer time to show up, we know the UK employer is investing on average half of what the EU employer is investing on skills training. UK employers would need to invest an extra £6.5 billion to spend the same as the EU average. Days spent in training in the UK are also at an all time low.

What's your view on the four-day week and is it applicable for your business?

It would be nice, but it just doesn't seem practical. We have competitors out there who are working five days or six days a week. We wouldn't have been able to build Coursera Coach if we were only working four days a week. It would have taken 20% longer. I don't think that we have the luxury of working only four days a week when the world is changing so quickly.

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First Published Date: 03 Aug, 07:13 IST