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Online Learning Market Soars as Pandemic Fuels Rapid Reskilling

November 04, 2020 Learning and Development
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By Sarah Fister Gale

Zoom isn’t the only tech company benefitting from the rush to remote work. Online learning platforms, including LinkedIn’s Lynda, Udemy, EdX and Coursera, have seen a surge in interest, as companies try to figure out how to keep employees trained in a totally remote environment. 

“As business leaders and individuals alike grapple with the staggering impact of COVID-19, one thing has become undoubtedly clear,” said Cara Brennan Allamano, senior vice president of people, places and learning for Udemy. “In order for leaders to foster organizational resilience and weather the post-pandemic storm, they must prioritize the learning and development of their workforce.”

That realization has been a boon for the online education industry. Allamano reports that its Udemy for Business offering has seen a 90% increase in enrollments since the pandemic began. And Leah Belsky, CEO of Coursera, reports the company saw a 450% increase in business customers in the second quarter of 2020 compared to the second quarter of 2019. 

Belsky isn’t surprised by the rush to online learning. “The spread of coronavirus has profoundly affected the way companies operate,” she said. “By offering opportunities to learn new skills (leaders) have alleviated this transition, whilst providing a community experience.”

Related Article: Raise Your Organization's Digital IQ: The Timing Has Never Been Better

The Online Learning Market Matures

The growth coincides with steady maturation of both content and technology in the online learning environment. 

Online learning has been around for decades but for a long time it was mostly digital manuals and PowerPoint presentations with quizzes. But today’s platforms provide customers with easy access to robust content with lots of interactivity and smart support tools to help learners find the best content to meet their needs. 

The choice of topics has also expanded to almost any training a company could want. Today’s learners can access college-level courses taught by renowned professors, get certified in the latest programming languages, and hone their soft skills through a range of live or self-paced options.

Many of the platforms also offer recommendation engines that suggest content based on users’ career goals and learning preferences and provide options to complete micro-degrees and badges that they can use as proof of training. It makes it easier for people to attain new skills and to complete degrees incrementally through stackable programs.

EdX CEO Adam Medros said these micro-degree options will create a more inclusive learning environment. “Affordability, accessibility, and modularity increases access to education,” he said. 

The nonprofit EdX was founded by MIT and Harvard and is known for its Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs), which are free and available for anyone to enroll. In 2017, the platform launched EdX for Business to provide corporate customers with content on everything from leadership and inclusion to computer sciences, project management and artificial intelligence. 

Medros notes that the types of content business customers are seeking has changed dramatically during the pandemic. “Twelve months ago, all anyone was talking about was automation and AI, and how to reskill workers as jobs disappear,” he said. 

Now it’s most popular courses is Harvard’s 12-week Justice course, a MOOC that explores moral and political philosophy as it relates to affirmative action, income distribution, same-sex marriage, and the role of markets in debates about rights. The self-paced course is free but participants can pay $99 for a certificate of completion. 

The class that launched in June had almost 400,000 participants. “Businesses realize they have to address these issues,” Medros said. “Providing opportunities to learn about inclusive leadership is an important part of that.”

EdX is also seeing more interest in soft skills training and business management courses as leaders try to figure out how to pivot their business model in an uncertain economy.

Related Article: Is Your Organization Ready for the Hybrid Learning Challenge?

Continued Growth Ahead for Online Learning Providers

The diversity and accessibility of online learning offering have helped this industry balloon. The global online education market is projected to be worth $319 billion by 2025, up from $188 billion just prior to the pandemic. 

Many of the individual players have also seen huge valuation growth in recent years. Udacity, which is known for its tech training and nanodegrees, was valued at $1 billion in 2015. That same year, LinkedIn bought Lynda.com for $1.5 billion in an effort to rapidly position itself as the corporate learning leader in this space. Other platforms have continued to grow, including Coursera which was valued at $2.5 billion in 2019.

It's likely that the pandemic will accelerate this growth, even after people return to the office. “In the new normal, digital learning will be a critical way to build business agility and empower employees to take control of their path forward,” Allamano said. 

It will also help create a lifelong learning mentality which will be critical for the future of work. “There is an amazing evolution happening in the way people learn online,” Medros said. “It makes it easier for people to fit learning into their lives.”

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