Coronavirus outbreak coincides with spike in Coursera classes on public health

Confusion over the global response to the COVID-19 outbreak may be prompting people to tackle the pandemic in their own way — by enrolling in epidemiology classes. Online learning platform Coursera says enrollments in epidemics and pandemics courses have surged 62% from their daily average, since February. 

An 8-week course developed by the Imperial College London last month, “Science Matters: Let’s Talk About COVID-19,” has already seen 11,500 enrollments, making it the second most popular course on the platform this year, behind “Crash Course on Python,” a programming course developed by Google (GOOG, GOOGL).

“They wanted to put fact-based, rigorous, scientific communications about this virus without the media, without the politics, just as a university speaking directly to the population,” said CEO Jeff Maggioncalda, in an interview with Yahoo Finance. “That coronavirus course is one of our most popular courses right now.”

Coursera saw a 30% uptick in total enrollments for public health content overall between January and February, with the most notable increases in areas hardest hit by the outbreak, Maggioncalda adds. China and Hong Kong recorded a 47% month-over-month increase in enrollments related to that subject matter during the same time period. Italy saw a 19% increase, with fewer courses taught in Italian.

Coursera does not provide specific enrollment numbers.

Online learning is becoming an ‘absolute necessity’

Education technology companies have experienced a surge in traffic across the board, as universities scramble to move their classes online. 

Renee Patton, Cisco’s (CSCO) global director of education, said sign-ups for its WebEx video platform have jumped 700% since the outbreak began earlier this year. 

“I think many schools and universities, unfortunately, wait until a crisis hits before they think through plans. I’m not saying that universally, but I think this has given them a chance to kind of figure out how do we address continuity of learning, and what are some of the things that we can do to make sure that we stay up and running,” Patton said.

Edmentum CEO Jamie Candee said the company has seen a similar uptick in interest for its online educational tools since January. On March 9, the company had more than 140 districts register for its online platform in less than an hour.

In addition to open courses available to the public, Coursera offers two master’s degrees in public health, from the University of Michigan and Imperial College of London. 

“I do think that almost every university within the next six to 12 months will have some experience with online learning, because it is an absolute necessity,” Maggioncalda said. “This acceleration will cause fundamentally and permanently a change in the way that universities look at how they educate students.” 

Akiko Fujita is an anchor and reporter for Yahoo Finance. Follow her on Twitter @AkikoFujita.

Aarthi is a reporter for Yahoo Finance. She can be reached at [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter @aarthiswami

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