E-learning trends 2020

E-learning is growing across the education sector, Lessons via mobile

Unsurprisingly, the e-learning industry is experiencing a major boon at the moment. Returning to schools, universities, and even offices is hotly debated, and e-learning is a clear safe alternative. But even before March, edtech was on a steep upwards trajectory. In 2017, Forbes predicted that by 2020 the global e-learning market would increase 36% from 2015 (USD$107bn to approximately USD$146bn).

As for why, e-learning has several advantages over its classroom equivalents. Firstly, microlearning (a subset of e-learning) accommodates shorter attention spans, a common concern for the more tech-savvy audience that e-learning caters to. In the same vein, its availability on mobile platforms makes learning easier to fit around other responsibilities and on-the-go and is thereby more efficient than classroom learning. E-learning’s use of graphics caters especially well to visual learners, who are estimated to make up the majority of the population. Gamification, a trend we reported last year, holds attention much longer than passive learning styles. Finally, e-learning is believed to provide longer-lasting lasting results. Typical face-to-face training expects retention rates of about 8-10%, while e-learning retention rates can be between 25-60%. Earlier this year, Forbes upped its estimation of industry value to USD$325bn by 2025.

One sign of the sector’s growth is the emergence less scrupulous companies looking to take advantage of the rise. Even established players such as the Shaw Academy have come under scrutiny following complaints from a huge number of users who have been over-charged or charged pre-emptively. As with any new industry developing online, there will be new tricks and pitfalls in finding the highest quality product. One of the earliest drivers of the e-learning market, Coursera, has always outsourced their credibility to bricks-and-mortar institutions, partnering with some of the most prestigious names in higher education.

Scams are not the only fly in the ointment, however. While e-learning is being hailed as the saviour for upskilling and keeping busy while stuck at home, for university students, it’s also allowed many students to defer their studies during the pandemic. People may be willing to pay for online learning, but, understandably, not £9k a year. It will be interesting to see how many of those students return to bricks-and-mortar education next year.


E-learning is already embedded in university systems in the form of an LMS, or a learning management system. The concept may be more familiar to students by the names of Moodle, Canvas, Blackboard, or D2L Brightspace, the big four in the market. For exclusively in-person-taught university students, these platforms may have been the place to upload assignments, in part to check for plagiarism, and find course materials. For the 30% of university students who take online courses, these LMSs are the foundation and the main point of contact for all their studies. They hold a fixed syllabus of learning content and are therefore most suited to a fixed course of study, such as corporate compliance training or university courses.

But LMS platforms are under threat from LXPs, or learning experience platforms. LXP is the younger, cooler sibling in the e-learning family: connected to the internet, more adaptable and user-guided. LXPs share a broader range of learning content in a self-guided approach. LinkedIn Learning is probably the most dominant example in the market as it stands, catering to upskilling professionals.

An early education LXP has yet to emerge, but with the curriculum being so fixed at those early stages, an LMS format is a more natural fit. But LXPs are already making waves in the higher education market, although the most successful will still need to rely on an ‘old world’ (read: pre-covid, analogue) institution to provide the name and the expertise behind the product. You can only innovate so many things at once.

Blended approach

Even the most devoted proponents of e-learning will tell you that a ‘blended approach’ – that is, a combination of in-person and e-learning – is ideal. A Grant Thornton study published in July this year predicts that e-learning could even be the saviour of traditional learning, as there could be ‘significant opportunities for eLearning providers to partner with traditional training providers.’ Professor John Bryson, an author of a new study from the University of Birmingham and UCL, found that blended learning will be the best approach (and likely most common) for universities this coming year. For the online portion, the study recommends bursts of ‘intensive’, real-time learning with professors, balanced with ‘extensive’ learning, covered by content that students can consume in their own time. The reasoning is that, as many companies have found since March, video meetings are much more energy-consumptive than their in-person equivalents. Learning past the point of mental exhaustion, obviously, is a good use of no one’s time.

Just-in-time Training

Just-in-time training encapsulates the best features of e-learning. While e-learning in its original form aimed to replicate the classroom experience, just-in-time learning embraces the efficiency and on-demand capabilities of the digital world. It provides the e-learning that employers need to give their employees when they need it. Providers have the efficiency and flexibility that is part and parcel of e-learning platforms.

While lockdown has been an opportunity for many to upskill in new areas without a specific focus, just-in-time training responds to needs that arise demanding an immediate solution. At the moment, such requirements could be in the areas of unconscious bias, or remote hiring. As a result, the main requirement of just-in-time training from e-learning platforms is a strong and comprehensive LMS. E-learning providers will need to anticipate perennial and of-the-moment corporate needs, to fill the gaps in training. Employee feedback, focus groups, and on-the-job observation are recommended as the best methods for gathering requirements for just-in-time training to fill. The second major requirement of just-in-time learning is that material is thoroughly indexed so that learners can narrow in on exactly the content they need. These two requirements alone can adapt more traditional (but still new) microlearning content to fill just-in-time training needs.

Beyond all the changes above, the technology is, of course, constantly innovating. Virtual reality and alternative reality offer our best hope for a socially distanced classroom experience, and now even corporate events and meetings. And so, while e-learning has already come so far and filled so many new needs in the market, there is much more to come.

Eleanor Morum

[email protected]

Martin Tripp Associates is a London-based executive search consultancy. While we are best-known for our work across the mediainformationtechnologycommunications and entertainment sectors, we have also worked with some of the world’s biggest brands on challenging senior positions. Feel free to contact us to discuss any of the issues raised in this blog.