Online learning libraries are increasingly expanding their consumer products to include enterprise offerings — packaging online courses for entire teams, customizing courseware and offering data and analytics functions for training managers. Coursera is becoming a giant in this space, with 40 million users and more than 1,800 enterprise customers. In fact, its $103 million Series E equity round in April made it a “unicorn” (valued at over $1 billion) — a rarity in the training industry.

According to Leah Belsky, vice president of enterprise, “Coursera will use the funding to accelerate product innovations, especially for the enterprise business, and to expand our partnerships with companies and governments globally.” Last year, Coursera launched an artificial intelligence (AI)-powered skills benchmarking tool, and Belsky says Coursera will be building on that tool to create industry-based skills maps and “content collections mapped to specific roles, skills and industries.”

“The future of learning and the future of work are converging,” Belsky adds. “At a time when globalization and technology advancement is reshaping our lives, it is also causing a rate of change that is outpacing human adaptability. AI, automation, shifting demographics and the changing economic landscape are all disrupting businesses, jobs and the skills they require.” Coursera’s goal is to help individuals and companies navigate these changes using a “scalable, stackable, on-demand and curated learning model.”

The Growing Importance of Data

“The quality of our learning catalog is our strongest differentiator,” says Belsky, “but increasingly, customers are approaching us to learn from our platform data and skills insights to inform their talent transformation strategy.”

Different organizations have different required skills and learning needs. They need individualized data to understand those needs and determine what training to provide their employees. Online learning libraries can often provide an advantage in this area, because they have a great deal of data from learners already in their platform. By leveraging this data and offering it to enterprise customers, Coursera can enable more targeted upskilling initiatives.

Belsky sees this trend growing in the near future. “Traditionally, L&D initiatives have been positioned more as an employee benefit, with the aim of improving employee retention through more broad-strokes learning opportunities,” she says. “As we see technology advancement outpace human adaptability, building training programs that resolve actual skills shortages within the organization will be a priority for L&D.”

She believes that, rather than training being solely a top-down directive from the training team, it will become a collaborative initiative in partnership with team leaders. After all, they are the ones who know best what skills their teams need to develop in order to be successful. Combining the training organization’s data and learning expertise with team leaders’ access to employees and subject matter knowledge will help organizations better fill skills gaps and meet business needs. And Coursera wants to be there to assist.

How Education Attracts Funders

SEEK, which led Coursera’s Series E funding round, is dedicated to employment and education. Its portfolio consists of companies in 18 countries aimed at “help[ing] people live more fulfilling and productive working lives and help[ing] organisations succeed,” according to its website. SEEK was founded as an online jobs site, but its investment in Coursera, along with its recent acquisition of 50% of the business of Futurelearn, demonstrates the growing reality that you cannot separate talent acquisition from talent development. Matching people to jobs is useless if those people can’t succeed in them.

“This investment reflects our commitment to online education, which is enabling the up-skilling and re-skilling of people and is aligned to our purpose of helping people live fulfilling working lives,” said SEEK co-founder and CEO Andrew Bassat in the press release announcing the Coursera investment.

As other funders continue to understand the importance of education at work, and the return they see on their investment in the companies that help provide that education, will we see more unicorns in the training marketplace?

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