Best Practices

Three Keys to Innovating During a Crisis

The unprecedented COVID-19 crisis has affected just about every industry, driving transformations both large and small. In the edtech and e-learning spaces, the changes brought about by COVID have been nothing short of monumental.

At last month’s ProductCraft Virtual Conference, the CPO of Coursera, Shravan Goli, addressed the powerful implications of the coronavirus pandemic on organizations like his. As one of the world’s premier online learning platforms, Coursera has experienced a huge increase in traffic, signups, and engagement due to the shift from in-person to online education. 

In his session, Shravan shared some of the numbers behind this massive growth in consumer interest in edtech. Due to COVID-19, ninety percent of students around the world are now out of school, including university students. As a result, large numbers of learners are now seeking online alternatives to classroom education. Overall, Coursera‘s enrollment numbers are up 644%. “New to Coursera” sign-ups have increased by 15X. And their “The Science of Well-Being” course, aimed at health and stress reduction, saw a 3500% increase in enrollment in March of 2020 alone.

Shravan and his team feel very honored to help the world during this challenging time. And they’re well-positioned to do so, with their breadth of available content. They offer courses and specializations, master tracks and professional certifications, and a growing degree portfolio. In addition, they’ve developed 100+ “projects” to let learners develop applied, hands-on skills.

So, why do they feel so prepared to meet the challenge of a sudden, massive spike in demand? During his presentation, Shravan shared three keys to innovating effectively during a crisis, along with examples of how his own organization managed the unexpected impact of the coronavirus outbreak. 

1. Scalability

In order to meet unanticipated demand surges, an organization must invest in scalability. Especially important is horizontal scalability, which refers to well-designed microservices and architecture that can handle increased user activity. Don’t ignore the non-technical sources of scalability, however. The major one is operational efficiency. To scale effectively, your organizations need to value strong ownership and decentralized responsibility. If you have to take every little decision all the way to the top to get approval, you won’t be able to move fast enough. Empowered teams that can make their own calls quickly are critical to your company’s ability to scale.

At Coursera, setting a standardized quality of service has been a key objective over the past few years, with the goal of improving scalability. Shravan credited this initiative with helping them to better serve the enormous influence of new customers they’ve gained due to the pandemic.

2. Adaptability

When change comes, successful organizations are prepared to adapt. For Coursera, their ability to meet the unexpected was instrumental to their quick handling of a massive influx of new users. And they’ve done so in a way that offers quick value to online learners. In October of 2019, they launched their “Coursera for Campus” product. When COVID-19 struck, they quickly made it free for any college or university affected by the crisis. In addition, they made the product “self-serve” to fulfill new users’ needs.

Universities are responding with enthusiasm and with additional feature requests. Recently, they launched CourseMatch to map university classes to content available on Coursera. And just before the ProductCraft Virtual Conference, they released their Coursera Workforce Recovery Initiative to help the government better serve unemployed workers.

3. Compassion

According to Shravan, effective innovation comes from putting people and their needs first. And compassion has to start at the top, from the C-suite on down. When the coronavirus pandemic began, Coursera’s leadership immediately initiated work-from-home for all employees, wherever they worked and whichever department they belonged to. The safety of their employees was paramount and made the WFH decision an easy one.

The Coursera team also listened to their customers. One piece of feedback they received was that learners wanted a course on all things COVID-19 in order to stay educated and informed. They created the course as quickly as possible and immediately saw strong engagement.

Expecting the unexpected

Companies can’t predict crises like COVID-19. However, they can prepare for unlikely and even worst-case scenarios. And even during “business as usual,” it’s worthwhile to make scalability, adaptability, and most of all compassion, a part of your organizational strategy. The benefits will be long-reaching, and if a crisis does strike, could be the difference between surviving and thriving.