Coursera chief says Middle East is 'moving most aggressively' to embrace AI

Jeff Maggioncalda said he's spending more of his time in Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Qatar

At the Leap technology conference in Riyadh, Coursera chief executive Jeff Maggioncalda reflected on how AI is being used by the learning platform to enhance its offerings. Photo: Cody Combs
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The Middle East looks to be moving most aggressively in training their employees to embrace and adopt artificial intelligence, Jeff Maggioncalda, chief executive of the learning platform Coursera, has said.

In countries such as Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Qatar, governments and companies are rapidly adopting artificial intelligence, Mr Maggioncalda told The National just before his appearance at the Leap 2024 technology conference in Riyadh on Wednesday.

Mr Maggioncalda, who is approaching his seventh year as Coursera's chief executive, said he has been spending more of his time in the Middle East.

According to a global survey from Boston Consulting Group last month, 11 per cent of executives in the Middle East indicated that their workers were training on generative AI tools, compared to 8 per cent in North America, 7 per cent in the Asia-Pacific region and 5 per cent in Europe.

“In workforce development, the Middle East is leading in upskilling efforts related to GenAI,” the study read.

“This indicates a focused yet ongoing effort in the region to equip the workforce with the necessary skills for the AI landscape.”

Coursera has aimed to enhance AI learning. The company launched Arabic translations of more than 4,200 online courses, growing the overall upskilling and education trends reported in the Middle East.

“It opens up a lot more accessibility to Arabic-speaking learners,” he said.

“It's the transcripts, it's the learning assessments, it's the user interface, the readings and everything.”

According to Coursera, as of last year, 8.9 million of its 142 million global customers are from the Middle East and North Africa, a 25 per cent increase compared to 2022.

Coursera is using AI in most of its product offerings such as Coursera Coach, which is powered by generative AI and can answer questions and share personalised feedback with the user.

“If someone is struggling with the concept or why it’s relevant to their business or relevant to their job, they can speak to coach in whatever language they want,” Mr Maggioncalda said, adding that AI has made translations much quicker to develop and introduce.

Coursera will also soon be launching Course Builder, which will use AI to help instructors produce custom courses for their audiences.

“You can sit there and type in the kind of course you want to teach, and AI creates an outline for a course structure and then allows the instructor to modify it if they want to,” he said.

He added that on a global level, AI has prompted an increase in course sign-ups for customers wanting to train, retrain or learn about AI-related topics.

“The world is facing the need for upskilling that’s only getting bigger and bigger,” he said.

“Developing a habit of learning is going to be critical to maintaining good economic opportunities in front of you.”

Mr Maggioncalda also stressed the importance of Generative AI, which he said could act as a learning assessor or a dissertation committee for users.

“It [Coursera] might eventually ask you, 'how did you come up with this answer?', or 'show how you came to this conclusion,'” he said.

He also addressed the debate concerning the potential for job losses as a result of corporations implementing AI for various work processes.

“I think the curriculum might be affected, but there's a human component for empathy, love and understanding that can't be replicated,” he said, speaking about the potential effect of AI on teachers and educators.

“Call centres, or jobs that are really automated, those jobs are very vulnerable and can easily be automated,” he said.

“It's going to be a blend of things, but it's going to affect companies, businesses, individuals and campuses across the board.”

He expects the company to be profitable in this year and noted that last year ended on a high note.

“Twelve years in and we turned a profitable quarter,” he said, commenting on Coursera's fourth-quarter results. “Revenues have grown nicely.”

Updated: March 07, 2024, 2:12 AM