What changed?

The pandemic wasn’t negative for everybody. Massive open online courses (MOOCs) accessible through providers like Coursera, Skillshare, and Udemy have seen a golden period since March 2020.

In fact, of every student who has ever signed up to an online course provider, one-third of them did so in 2020. And the industry raised a combined $2.2 billion in the US in 2020 alone. But why now? Initially, with extended lockdowns in place in many countries across the world, the enforced downtime seemed like the perfect opportunity to invest in new skills. With traditional education providers offering an online experience anyway, the far more affordable MOOC looked more attractive than ever.

Remote working also became much more commonplace, with many roles operating fully remote even today. This has had a big impact on the demographics of candidates. During the course of the pandemic, India saw 13.6 million students sign up to the Coursera platform, making it the country with the second-largest number of users behind the US. 

The Philippines also saw an 85% YoY growth to 1.3 million registered Coursera students, making it the third-fastest growing country on the platform. Women in the Philippines have seen especially rapid growth on Coursera, with a whopping 774% increase YoY.

Source: Class Central

What do these changes mean for online education platforms?

This relatively sudden shift in student demographics poses a significant challenge for online education platforms.

While many of them offer courses in multiple languages, the vast majority of their existing courses are in English. Some of these new students might speak English, but it’s likely that the majority won’t have an English level advanced enough to consume educational resources in that language.

The language that you study in can have a substantial impact on how well you’re able to retain information. In one of our own studies, we found that people are 70% more likely to retain information when an educational video is dubbed in their own language versus when it’s viewed in the original non-native language.

So online education platforms have two major problems:

  1. Students that can’t speak English bring huge demand for content that just isn’t there, meaning these platforms will have to scramble to localize existing courses or invest in completely new content in that language.
  2. Students that can speak English might be more content to engage with existing English courses, but their experience and overall benefit from the courses are hindered by the psychological effect of studying in their second language.

What can education platforms do to quickly create new content?

It’s clear that offering courses in the languages of these new students would be the best outcome. So what options are available for these platforms? Creating new content for these audiences from scratch is a significant investment with a long time to see results. It’s not a bad idea to get the ball rolling on this as a long term content strategy, but the immediate demand would be better served by localizing existing courses.

There are three methods to quickly translate video courses into new languages:

  • Automated subtitles: You can use online tools to automate the creation of subtitles on your videos. It’s by far the quickest method but also the least accurate, which will impact the student experience.
  • Professional subtitles: Whether you hire a language service provider (LSP), translation agency, or freelancer, you can have high quality custom subtitles on your videos at relatively speedy turnarounds, but it will be more expensive.
  • Automated dubbing: Software like Papercup helps you quickly dub your existing videos using AI and synthetic voices. Turnarounds are in days rather than weeks, are checked by professional translators, and give a better educational experience than subtitles alone.