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The Online Learning Business Is Booming – But Is It Here to Stay?

Dude doing some e-learning

From kindergarten to university graduate programs, school systems have been forced to embrace online education platforms. As the threat of coronavirus has spread across the globe, online learning has replaced in-person interactions. What was believed to be draconian measures in China is now commonplace in most countries affected by COVID-19. In the process, many businesses in the education sector are thriving. While online education was already growing before, it has suddenly boomed overnight. But will this be a temporary blip on the radar, or a major shift in how we learn in the future?

Without question, online learning has many advantages that make it attractive to students and teachers alike. In fact, some of its features benefit parents as well. Knowing this, many businesses have been developing online education platforms and tools since the early 2000s. As a result, some are well-positioned to take advantages of current social isolation mandates. But much remains unknown about these online learning systems, especially in terms of effectiveness. Thus, exploring this sudden shift toward online education deserves a closer look.

“The digitalization of education is inevitable. The sudden epidemic accelerates the process by shifting all Chinese K12 users learning online.” – Amber Zhang, Director at TH Capital, a Beijing-headquartered investment bank

Major Players in the Online Education Landscape

In examining the online learning market, businesses involved in primary online education have experienced the greatest increase in demand. Certainly, platforms like Webex and Zoom are being increasingly utilized by everyone during this crisis. This not only includes teachers and students but many who are working from home. But businesses with digital educational platforms for school systems look to see the largest shift in demand. While many colleges and some high schools had such systems in place, some did not. And very few primary school systems enjoyed such infrastructures. Thus, it’s no wonder these companies stand to benefit at the present time.

Someone about to get their e-learning on
Thanks to COVID-19, online learning is the only learning.

The top three online education systems likely to see their revenues rise are all veterans of the industry. Instructure’s Canvas platform has been around since 2008 and now has a global presence in 70 different countries. Likewise, Blackboard, which went public in 2004, has over 100 million clients worldwide. And Google Classroom, which has gained recent popularity, offers a more familiar interface that many find appealing. Google also offers Proctorio as part of its Chrome extensions that monitors students during online exams. As schools scramble to develop online education solutions, these are the companies they are most commonly exploring.

“In some ways, it’s actually better because you can really focus clearly on specific things like technique when you’re seeing somebody on screen. It’s been interesting to see how much my teaching style has changed using this [online education] format.” – Cyrus Beroukhim, Associate Professor, New York University

The Pros and the Cons of Online Learning

No one likes change, and when it comes to shifting school systems to online education, there will be some pushback. But online learning does have many advantages to offer. Like working from home, students can avoid commutes and save time and transportation costs. Likewise, with digital online learning platforms, quick access to information is often easier. And online education can be cost effective in many instances. Renting digital books instead of buying them is usually less costly. Also, tuition in many cases is also less. As the economy contracts, this could be one of the largest drivers for online learning businesses.

However, it is also worth noting that some challenges exist for online education systems. For younger children, home structure and materials may be inadequate to get the most out of online learning. Lack of tablets, computers, broadband and more could hinder academic success. Likewise, many educators lack effective curricula and testing measures for these online learning environments. Some also have limited computer science skills that require educational reforms. And it remains to be seen whether these digital platforms are as effective as classroom settings where social learning exists. These represent additional areas where opportunistic businesses can potentially thrive.

“I feel like I’m not learning anything because all I’m being asked to do is go onto Google Classroom, look at the assignments and finish them by a certain due date. So, it’s like I’m teaching myself rather than being taught.” – Jay-len McLean, current high school senior at Manhattan’s Talented Unlimited High School

From Classroom to Boardroom

Without question, the online education systems mentioned are increasing their sales in the current climate. But they are not alone. Online learning systems extend outside traditional student environments and into company cultures. In fact, many experts predict that the current shift to online education will significantly advance continuous learning overall. This means that online learning platforms will likely become the norm throughout the lifespan. With the world’s information doubling time expected to be 12 hours soon, this makes perfect sense. And companies who embrace online education and training for their employees will likely be those most favored.

With this in mind, there are several online learning platforms ideal for companies and their employees. For example, Udemy offers a large catalog of business-related courses from which to choose. Likewise, Skillshare and LinkedIn Learning also provide specific courses in a number of fields that can help businesses. These latter two platforms are based on subscription models, which makes continuous learning easier. Finally, Coursera is another online education platform for continuous learning. Coursera actually collaborates with universities and offers platform degrees to support quality online education. In all likelihood, these types of platforms will become much more mainstream.

A Steep Learning Curve for the Future

Online education certainly has its challenges. In addition to the ones mentioned, others involving security, data privacy and quality also exist. But by all indications, the online learning industry is booming and will continue to do so well after this pandemic. Currently, educational apps are the second growing fastest app sector in the world. Likewise, global growth of online learning systems is expected to advance by double-digit percentages for years. Though we were already on the cusp of online education’s golden age, COVID-19 has pushed us over that edge. And businesses poised to meet consumer needs in this area will certainly thrive in the process.

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