Q&A with Shira Lee Katz, Head of Content Strategy at Coursera

Q&A with Shira Lee Katz, Head of Content Strategy at Coursera

1. Tell us about yourself and your experience.

After 20 years of work (and play) in a variety of fields—content strategy, learning, kids, and more—one thing I can say is that anywhere, anytime learning is powerful. “Anywhere, anytime learning” is the notion that learning isn’t confined to the four walls of a classroom. Rather, it is a continuous process fueled by real-life experiences and goals that have intrinsic meaning to the learner.

Picture the baby who has her first brush with physics by pushing her cereal bowl off of her high chair. There’s the high school soccer captain who learns about strong and weak strategy by trying different defense formations on the field. Flash forward to the work world. A machine learning product manager must create a personalization algorithm to serve up flats, tennis shoes, and boots to the most fitting customer cluster. Compare these scenarios with memorizing country capitals in order to pass a test. Neither type of learning goal is inherently better or worse. But, the “anywhere, anytime” scenarios unfold often because there is an immediate utility.

Most of my work and jobs have focused on anywhere, anytime learning. Here are some of the organizations where I’ve worked that have shaped my view:

  • Coursera (2019–present), offers courses, certificates, and degrees online from world-class universities and companies. Learners can engage with the platform on their own time and at their own pace.  Learning on Coursera drives mastery, ensuring employees acquire the skills they need to propel the organization forward.  This can take the form of upskilling, reskilling or applying efforts toward starting or finishing a degree.   
  • Netflix (2015–2019), a media entertainment company that offers one of the most diverse TV and movie catalogs in the world. You can learn about some of the root causes of poverty through documentaries, family dynamics and dysfunction from dramas, or different cultures from foreign films. 
  • Common Sense Media (2009–2015), a kids and media nonprofit that offers guidance to parents and teachers on how to choose the best media and technology for their kids. TV and app reviews help parents steer their kids toward enriching choices. A digital citizenship curriculum helps kids think critically about the pluses and minuses of the digital world.

A major reason I appreciate anywhere, anytime learning so much is that I learn best this way myself. I learn best when I’ve defined my own goal, when I feel wedded to this end, and when I can help a team by putting a skill I’ve learned into action.  

2. How does Coursera think about content strategy and skills for the future? 

In short: A ton of data analysis intermingled with a dose of informed intuition.

My team, the content strategy team, is the forward-looking radar and content innovation hub for the company. We identify content to help learners master skills, get jobs, change jobs, earn credit and degrees. We have an enterprise content lead, Kelly Murphy, who tries to understand the motivations and needs of our enterprise customers and learners. We also have content vertical leads that partner with Kelly. They use data and research to identify content to add to Coursera in the following areas: data science, technology, business, healthcare, and much more. 

When conducting research about what topics and skills are in-demand, we take into account 140+ different on-platform and off-platform data signals that our data science team has defined, such as job openings and on-platform search volume. We also draw on existing data and reports from the likes of IDC and Burning Glass, as well as conducting our own trend research. Staying abreast of pop culture and public buzz through podcasts, NPR, TED Talks, McSweeney’s, TV, movies, books, and more helps us identify emerging skills and content trends.

3. What do you find especially exciting about the work you are doing at Coursera?

We have a company-wide all hands once-a-month. It’s chock full of updates about our current initiatives. The tone is usually light and celebratory. But without fail, the end of every meeting makes me tear up. This is because we end the meeting with two learner stories. We watch stories of people whose families didn’t have the money to send them to college but could afford education through Coursera. We see stories of those who were able to upskill at work and get promotions, solve new problems, build new inventions because of skills they learned through Coursera.

I also love some of the new initiatives we are taking to encourage practice, hands-on learning, and work-centered case studies. We’ll share more on that in the coming months.

4. What are some content areas you see Coursera investing in for the near future?

Our strongest performing areas, broadly speaking, are data science, technology, and business. These are domains that “travel” well across the world and can be taught particularly effectively online. Healthcare is a growing vertical for us as well, and I see an uptick in interest in psychology and personal wellness. Here’s a narrow peek into the more specific areas where we expect to see demand, in no particular order.

  • Data science: Data visualization, AI for different sectors, personalization algorithms
  • Technology: Cybersecurity, robotics, cloud native development
  • Business: Sensory marketing, program management, customer centricity
  • Health: AI for health and medicine, digital drug discovery
  • Human Skills: Body language, purpose

We have also identified attributes of content that has performed quite well. They are:

  • “For everyone” content is inviting. Content that applies to a wide array of people generally does well on Coursera.
  • Opportunities for practice. Add in many opportunities for the learner to try what they learned again and again, and also real-life case studies so they can see skills in practice.
  • The instructor matters. Having experts who can also easily break down concepts is key.
  • Demand for soft skills. We are hearing from employers that new graduates could have improved soft skills, such as communication and resilience. 

5.  What is one of your favorite Coursera courses and why?

One of my favorite courses is AI for Everyone.  It turns a very intimidating subject into something with both a clear and myriad of applications in everyday life.  

We’d love to hear from you! Share your feedback on the skills and content areas your organization is focused on, and let us know if you’d be open to a conversation with our content strategy team.