New study uncovers challenges, best practices, and promise of online learning to create more opportunity for women and underserved populations in the post-pandemic economy
By Betty Vandenbosch, Chief Content Officer, Coursera
In partnership with IFC and the European Commission, I am pleased to announce our global study on women and online learning in emerging markets. Our research addresses knowledge gaps related to online learning participation and labor market outcomes for women in developing countries, and informs public-private sector approaches to reduce social equity gaps in the new economy.
Women and other underrepresented groups have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic and automation. Technology is creating jobs, but vulnerable populations need access to flexible, affordable, and fast-tracked learning and career pathways to take advantage of these new opportunities.
“Online learning is shaping the future of education, but not everyone is benefitting equally. This research shows that closing the digital divide will not only benefit women learners and other underserved groups, but can yield dividends for all.”
–Stephanie von Friedeburg, Senior Vice President Operations, IFC
“The Women and Online Learning in Emerging Markets report combines several EU priorities under the Global Gateway strategy: women’s empowerment, education, digitalization, growth and jobs—all essential to sustainable development. We work with partners to ensure women have equal opportunities also through online learning, which boosts their chances to have a decent job and contribute to more prosperous and peaceful societies.”
–Jutta Urpilainen, European Commissioner for International Partnerships
While there is work to be done, the Women and Online Learning in Emerging Markets uncovered some promising trends. Among the findings:
Online learning can lead to career outcomes in emerging markets.
- About one-third of the women learners surveyed said they found a new job, set up a business, or improved their job or business performance after taking online courses.
- Twenty-two percent of women saw an increase in their income, nearly 40% of whom reported an increase of 10% or more.
- Nearly half (47%) of learners who joined Coursera to start or grow their business succeeded in doing so – and women and men achieved equal results.
- Online education produces gains within the broader economy through direct and indirect effects: one job is created for every 30 people trained on Coursera in the four focus countries.
Increased demand for online learning is likely to outlast the pandemic.
- During the pandemic, women’s participation in online learning globally jumped from an average of 39% in the previous three years to 45% in 2020 and 2021.
- Nearly every learner said they plan to continue learning online (75%) or in a blended format (24%) after the pandemic.
Women and other underserved populations view online learning as more accessible than in-person education.
- 45% of women and 60% of women caregivers said they would have had to postpone or stop studies if online learning were not an option.
- Nearly half of the learners surveyed reported earning in their country’s bottom 50th percentile of income.
- Among learners in Mexico and India who identified as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or queer (LGBTQ+), 40% said they were more likely to ask questions and over half (51%) were more likely to voice their opinions online compared to traditional classrooms.
- 17% of all learners self-identified as disabled, reporting a slight preference for blended learning.
The study draws on user data from nearly 97 million Coursera learners in over 190 countries, surveys of nearly 10,000 learners across Egypt, India, Mexico, and Nigeria who completed at least one lesson on the platform, and interviews with over 70 global learners and industry experts.
I’m hopeful that the data and insights from this report will help the public and private sectors work together to build competitive, equitable, and sustainable workforces – and help women and other underrepresented groups unlock their full economic potential.
To download the full Women and Online Learning in Emerging Markets report, please visit