Tales from the Lockdown #3: a conversation with Dil Sidhu, Coursera

04 May 2020

In this series of conversations, our guests talk to Senior Consultant Claudia Monteiro about what they're learning during the pandemic and what future they're imagining. 

What aren’t we talking enough about right now? 

We need to talk about how we move beyond the pause button - it’s going to take a while before students come back to campus, and for international students to feel safe about going abroad. And we need to be realistic as a lot of people will forego university and find other solutions. Students will be choosing what suits them best; already you can get a Google IT certificate and use that as a credit for a Masters in Machine Learning and Data Science at Imperial College London. There’s a lot of fragmentation coming our way.  

Tell us a tale about one of your local heroes, a person or a group within Coursera who have pulled out all the stops at this time of crisis.  

We have a lot of people working in early years pedagogy and those teams have put together zoom rooms for employees’ children. It’s really helping parents while working from home, they’ve built spaces where kids can be entertained in a purposeful way.   

What’s surprised you the most - either positively or negatively – once normality disappeared and your organisation had to adapt to a different reality?  

The sheer level of interest in our work; we had more than 4000 universities and institutes approaching us during this pandemic. Coursera works as a middle person, we don’t create content per se, but many organisations will soon see themselves as content makers. And I’m not just talking about universities but all sorts of big players like Amazon, IBM and Google. These companies are already part of people’s daily lives, and if the last two weeks proved anything is that we’re all prepared to become a little more tech savvy so we can socialise with friends and family. 

We’re about to enter another era of re-skilling. With job losses and an economic downturn on our hands a lot of people will look at changing their careers. Universities will be re-thinking what they focus on; I believe some will disappear, others will merge. The very established institutions will weather this storm much better.  

As a team leader, how has your focus changed? What are you more mindful of these days?  

I manage a team of 47 and a big downside of not being near them is that you become less aware of individual stress points. You have to be extra vigilant; you don’t want people to burnout, especially when so many are working longer hours while juggling homeschooling and childcare.  

Name one change that universities are going through that they’ll be carrying into the future?  

A big one is that providing online modules is no longer optional, and faculty will have to respond to that. The reliance on a physical campus is going to be lessened, presidents and trustees are going to think twice about investing hundreds of millions into a building. What can that money achieve instead in terms of learning technologies that so many more would access?   

Can you reflect on one area that might hit universities?  

There’s a risk humanities might suffer and that would be a real shame. There will be even more of a move towards tech and data and we need to ensure budgets continue to feed into other areas too.  

What partnerships and collaborations really came into play when it came down to it? 

At Coursera, all those government and university relationships we’d been building have really paid off during this crisis. There are a lot of government employees sitting at home right now who are topping up on their training.  

Dil Sidhu was until recently Chief Content Officer at Coursera. 

Photo: Suzy Hazelwood from Pexels 


Read more Tales of the Lockdown with

Kai Peters, Coventry University, UK

Molly Ihlbrock, ESMT Berlin, Germany

Sarah Lethbridge, Cardiff Business School, UK 

Ivan Bofarull, ESADE, Spain

Rob Angell, University of Southampton Business School, UK

Antonio Batista, Fundação Dom Cabral, Brazil 

Yusra Mouzughi, Muscat University, Oman

Kate Kearins, Auckland University of Technology, New Zealand 

Daniel Traça, Nova School of Business and Economics (Nova SBE), Portugal


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