Women are increasingly signing up for online learning courses and earning STEM certificates during the pandemic, according to the latest Women and Skills report from Coursera.
Women now make up 52% of new registered users on the e-learning platform in 2021, compared to 47% in 2019. In terms of course enrollment overall, women have almost reached parity, at 49 %, compared to only 42% of the total of 2019.
The narrow gender gap in online learning comes at a time when women have been disproportionately stopped at work during the coronavirus outbreak. Despite economic recovery in many labor market sectors, millions of women remain unemployed or underemployed due to their over-representation in personal service jobs, disrupted by Covid-19, as well as ongoing childcare demands over the past 18 months. Unemployment rates also exclude the 1.6 million women who have been forced to retire entirely from payroll since February 2020.
But the growing proportion of women who are excited and resilient through online learning could be an encouraging sign of the future of women in the workforce, says Betty Vandenbosch, content officer at Coursera.
Online learning could help close employment, pay gaps
Between the blame for the burden on household care, and the overrepresentation in personal service or care work, “women come to online learning because it is their only viable option,” Vandenbosch told CNBC Make It.
She is “thrilled” to see more women learning through Coursera despite increased work, job search and care responsibilities over the last two years, especially when it comes to greater participation in STEM courses and certifications.
Women enrollment in entry-level employment certificates reached 43% in 2021, up from 27% in 2019.
“The women saw the writing on the wall that the aid professions that had been so destroyed by Covid, such as retail or health care or childcare, it was a disaster,” Vandenbosch said. “But the place where things are strong is in digital.”
Coursera partners with 14 companies, including Google, IBM, Salesforce and Facebook, to design courses and prepare users without higher education or technology experience for a range of on-demand digital jobs.
For example, in 2020, Google announced three new online certification programs in data analytics, project management, and user experience design across Coursera. The three- to six-month courses are considered the equivalent of a four-year college degree for associated entry-level roles in the company.
Certificate programs that accelerate a career change could get more women into high-paying and high-paying tech jobs.
“Many do not just want to get a little better at what they do today,” Vandenbosch says of women who learn online. “They want to pivot on careers that are automatically protected. They want a career with a future.”
Learning design must take into account women
To encourage more women to gain access to online learning and certifications, e-learning platforms must be designed with women’s needs in mind, says Vandenbosch. At Coursera, this means ensuring that all course lectures are 10 minutes or less and can be done on a mobile device to accommodate disproportionate time constraints for women.
The platform has also increased its use of embedded assessments, such as short quizzes, so students can know if they are on the right track during a course.
Another big factor is ensuring that women are well represented as teachers and instructors across the platform, especially with its STEM-focused classes, as women are more likely to enroll in courses taught by women, according to internal research by Coursera.
“We are very clear with our partners to ensure that the people who teach their courses are diverse in terms of gender, racial makeup and economic position,” says Vandenbosch, especially for his industry certifications.
Currently, about 39% of the courses on courses are taught by women instructors.
Employers can do more to encourage women to continue learning, to pursue career growth
In 2021, women accounted for 57% of Coursera users who had access to the platform through a government agency, such as a re-entry program, and 54% of users with access through their university.
But among users who accessed their employer’s coursera as an advantage in the workplace, women accounted for only 32% of online students.
In order to continue employment and fill wage gaps, Vandenbosch says companies need to be more proactive in encouraging women to graduate and re-work as part of their career development at the company.
If companies continue to offer online learning, they can make it clear that graduates have a path to a promotion or new job after graduation.
The patrons should also continue learning to make a business priority without burdening employees, especially women who are more likely to get additional unpaid and unpaid jobs. This could mean integrating the courses into one’s tasks and achievement goals, and working with them to devote time and resources to doing so.
“When you learn what your business supports, your business should give you time to learn,” says Vandenbosch. “Businesses need to encourage women to do this work, and they need to have women who are role models who can say, ‘I did it, and you can too.'”