Interactive online learning drives gains in South-East Asia

New skills offer a pathway to opportunity and overcoming challenges in scaling inclusive skill development to unlock job growth.
By: | February 8, 2024

Access to new skills can create a powerful path to opportunity for people across South-East Asia. A report by PwC estimates that upskilling could unlock up to 676,000 new jobs by 2030, bringing massive economic gains. The challenge, however, is scaling skill development inclusively to meet this opportunity.

One-size-fits-all learning solutions do not work in the region. South-East Asia’s linguistic diversity, for instance, has been a barrier to employees upskilling online in English. This is just one of the problems technology is now solving. Advances in generative AI, machine learning (ML) and immersive technologies are opening equal access to in-demand skills and knowledge online.

Here are three ways the next chapter of online learning will bring transformative benefits to the region’s diverse learners, by making learning relevant, customised, and hands-on.

1. Removing language barriers, delivering localised, relevant learning

Till recently, language barriers prevented people in the region from accessing the learning and skills needed for new opportunities in the digital economy. With advancements in ML, it is now possible to scale translations of course material online, significantly reducing the cost and time. This has opened up thousands of courses, giving learners in South-East Asia faster access to up-to-date digital content and skills in a language they are comfortable learning. Students in Indonesia can take coursework in Bahasa and learners in Thailand can study in Thai, with translations for lecture video subtitles, quizzes, assessments, peer review instructions and discussion prompts.

“The new blend of online learning combines global quality content with localised learning.” – Raghav Gupta, Managing Director, Asia-Pacific, Coursera

The new blend of online learning combines global quality content with localised learning. A learner might enrol for a certificate from a global employer like Google, IBM, or Meta, which is translated into Bahasa or Thai. Related hands-on projects, taught by regional experts in the local language, then help these learners build practical job skills that are relevant and contextual.

Mixing and matching content building blocks is also customising the learning experience – a course might include a module from a leading professor in Singapore and the CEO of a fintech organisation from Indonesia.

For employees in South-East Asia, the ability to build in-demand skills online will open up booming, next-generation jobs – whether in Indonesia, where digital technologies are projected to create 20-45 million new jobs, or Thailand, which aims to increase the percentage of employees with digital skills to 70%, or the Philippines, which is doubling down on digital skills. In Singapore, digital skills like software development, AI, data and analytics are ranked high on transferability, and sought after across job roles, according to the latest SkillsFuture report.

New opportunities from upskilling online are not just country-specific. A growing number of emerging jobs globally require digital skills and are being offered remotely. Without language barriers, South-East Asians can now develop skills for a much wider range of digital jobs and work across borders. A recent Lightcast Report showed Indonesia already has the third largest population of remote employees in the world.

2. Personalised support for every kind of learner

With countries in South-East Asia at varying levels of economic development, the disparities between learners here are even more striking. But what if individualised learning support could be scaled for learners from every background, to help employees upskill effectively and students maximise their potential? Tutoring has been shown to improve learning outcomes for a wide range of learners and generative AI is making these benefits accessible online. Think of a virtual coach with conversational abilities, who can explain a specific concept a learner is stuck with, share an example to make it relevant and even reply to a learner’s question in their own language. If thousands of learners in South-East Asia take a course online, imagine a tutor for every single person.

That is the new level of personalised and interactive learning possible with generative AI. Given its many applications, it has enormous potential – from creating study tips or practice questions that are unique for each learner, to helping them prepare for an interview or even learn in a safe space.

3. Immersive, hands-on learning made accessible

New immersive learning experiences are breaking new ground on accessibility – they do not necessarily require any additional equipment or investment for learners and can be accessed on desktop or mobile. The latest virtual reality (VR) additions are designed for learners from all educational backgrounds and complement a course’s existing lecture videos, readings, and assessments. Importantly, they help learners practice job skills in an immersive real-world setting, gaining personalised feedback in real-time as they progress through the course.

In Introductory Human Physiology, a new course from Duke University, the VR components provide up-close views and gamified tasks to deepen key concepts and learning which could be impossible or dangerous in real life. With only a mobile phone, students even in rural areas will be able to build critical skills in fields like medicine or engineering, growing their confidence and expertise through VR courses.

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In Thailand, which receives a large number of Chinese tourists, one of the top courses on Coursera is Chinese for Beginners, from Peking University. This course teaches beginner-level Mandarin Chinese for basic daily conversations. Through VR, learners can travel virtually to a Chinese market, interact with various people, practice listening, speaking, pronunciation, and applying their vocabulary.

Accessible VR courses promote inclusive learning, which in South-East Asia, can help bridge the digital divide that varies across the region and even within each country.

10 years ago, online learning opened up first-time access to quality education for learners in the region. Online learning is at a new inflection point, where it is levelling the playing field by opening localised, relevant learning at scale. With greater access to in-demand skills online, employees across South-East Asia will have transformational opportunities to increase their participation and contribute to the region’s growing digital economy.

About the author: Raghav Gupta is Managing Director, Asia-Pacific, of Coursera.