One Simple Chart: online learning platforms, a year into the pandemic

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Last year I examined usage of a few online learning platforms and found that a month into the pandemic, many of them were growing rapidly. Now that we have data to compare pre and post pandemic usage, let’s revisit the same group of online learning providers:

At least in the West, the impact of the pandemic as far as restrictions and shelter-at-home orders didn’t kick in until March/2020 (late February in a few places). So the chart above is the first comparison of usage before and after the effects of the pandemic. Data indicates that major online learning platforms enjoyed a banner year. Many of them grew by double digits year-over-year: Udemy, Coursera, edX, Skillshare, and Pluralsight all grew by more 10%. Traffic to Coursera jumped 75%!

A major reason behind this growth is the increasing popularity of micro-credentials ⎼ series of courses that let students demonstrate competence in specific areas. With micro-credentials, students typically get badges or certificates upon completion, and depending on the program, they are able to combine and stack different micro-credentials towards a more comprehensive qualification. I have spoken to several people who have started micro-credential programs over the last year and I get the sense that they are representative of what’s happening in online learning. With many people sheltering in place, micro-credential programs are booming.

All of the major online learning platforms offer micro-credentials in many different disciplines and subjects, here are a few examples:

A few trends make me think that online learning platforms will be able to maintain at least some of the growth we’re seeing once the world returns to normal. First of all digital transformation is fueling demand for skilled workers across all industries and traditional educational institutions alone cannot meet demand. Secondly employees realize that they increasingly need to keep their skills up to date, and online learning platforms are just so much more cost-effective and convenient.

Finally, the pandemic has caused many to question the cost of higher education. This is particularly true in the U.S. where there’s already a looming crisis in student loans. While I think the top private and public Colleges and Universities have enough brand power to hold off more affordable alternatives, many academic institutions will have difficulty countering lower cost and more convenient alternatives. It’s hard to fault people who want to continue to study from the comfort of their home, while focusing only on the topics they are most passionate about!

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