10 Online Education Trends: 2020/2021 Predictions, Reports & Data

10 Online Education Trends: 2020/2021 Predictions, Reports & Data
Imed Bouchrika by Imed Bouchrika
Chief Data Scientist & Head of Content

All data points, statistics, trends, and predictions presented in this article have been gathered by G2R research team led by Imed Bouchrika, PhD. You are free to quote, share, and distribute the information here for your own purposes without any limitations.

Online education received worldwide attention in March 2020 when schools were forced to suspend face-to-face classes due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Based on UNESCO data published in 2020, the health crisis has shut more than 1.7 billion students out of the classroom. As a result, educational institutions had to frantically shift lessons or courses to elearning. 

However, there are other socioeconomic factors that are pushing the demand for digital learning. These include the rising costs of college education and textbooks,  the modern learner’s lifestyle, and equal access to education as we will understand from the trends presented in this article. 

Online Education Trends Table of Contents

1. Higher Education Institutions Expand Their Online Learning Programs

Though we might see a decline in demand for elearning post-COVID-19 in other segments of the online education market such as K-12, higher education institutions will continue to experience a high demand for digital content and courses (Research and Markets, 2020). 

Flexibility and convenience are two of the most important deciding factors students use when choosing between online learning and traditional classroom instruction. In the Online College Students 2019 survey conducted by Learning House, among 1,500 registered online students, 63% of respondents said that they enrolled in an online program because it was the best fit for their work and life responsibilities, 34% stated it was their preferred method of learning, and only 3% said it was because they could only find their program online (Clinefelter et al., 2019). The same survey also revealed that 67% of students enrolled in an online course lived within 50 miles from the college or university they were studying. This figure was up from 42% five years ago. This is an interesting data point as we can surmise that more local schools are offering online courses that enable students to stay within their communities. 

We predict that as the relevance of online education continues post-pandemic, and the interest and number of enrollees go up to a steady climb, higher education institutions will also expand their online program offerings as a strategic response to the current demand. 

However, while online learning and technology-based pedagogy continue to expand their roles in lieu of the ongoing pandemic, experts suggest that shifting 100% online should be only be considered as a complementary academic method and not as a long-term approach to education (Tan, 2020 cited in Izumi et al., 2020).

Why students choose to study online

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Source: Learning House

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2. MOOCs Partner with Educational Institutions to Focus on Micro-credentials

When schools were forced to shut down in March due to the pandemic, there was a sudden surge of online traffic to MOOCs according to Class Central, a website that keeps track of the online learning segment. Coursera, for example, closed over 10 million enrollments in 30 days—a 644% increase compared to their 2019 figures—while edX jumped to Alexa’s top-1000 websites ranking (Shah, 2020). Meanwhile, Udacity chief executive Sebastian Thrun, reported that their platform signed up more students in one week in March than it had in the second half of 2019 (WIRED, 2020).

But more than being a marketplace for free or low-cost online programs that can supplement one’s course work in a university, MOOCs can also provide more value to the learner through stackable micro-credentials. Udacity has already partnered with AT&T and Google, for instance, to deliver sophisticated nanodegree programs. The European MOOC Consortium, on the other hand, works with higher education institutions in developing the Common Microcredential Framework and other innovations in online education in the region. As of 2019, technology and business subjects have the largest chunk of micro-credential offerings at 40.2% and 33.2%, respectively (Shah, 2020).   

With governments worldwide—from European countries to New Zealand, Australia, and developing economies like Vietnam, the Philippines, and Cambodia (Jackman, 2019; Redmond, 2019; Spencer, 2019)—also encouraging the use and availability of micro-credentials, we can expect MOOCs to continue to focus their efforts and resources to meet this demand. 

Source: Class Central

3. Learners Empowered Through Mobile Learning and Microlearning 

Modern learners are overwhelmed and distracted, but fortunately, they are also motivated to learn. They adopt a “self-serve” learning approach where they can be empowered to take learning into their own hands (Greany, 2018). Over 60% of learners also prefer personalized, timely content and more than 56% learn on-demand. This is where we believe mobile learning’s portability and accessibility can truly match the needs and lifestyle of modern learners and why it will continue to be one of the most popular delivery methods for elearning. 

An important aspect of mobile learning is microlearning, which delivers content in small bursts. However, microlearning is more than just being small. Microlearning education is comprised of small or short courses or relatively narrow learning units or subjects (Hug & Friesen, 2009 cited in Buhu & Buhu, 2019). Likewise, it involves an educational program where the content design and learning process are organized in small units and step, mainly due to the learners’ specific needs (Kamilali & Sofianopoulou, 2013).

Content examples include images, quizzes, text, audio, video, and games. Students, for example, can review a short instructional video for a specific task before performing it so they can refresh their minds on how it is done. These short, straight-to-the-point,  training content can better engage learners, provide them with the right content when they need it, and help increase long-term retention (Hogle, 2019). 

Modern Learners

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Source: Elucidat

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4. AI Provides Personalized Learning Pathways

AI’s practical application has been seen in other industries, like manufacturing and healthcare. In education, its growth is estimated to reach $6 billion by 2024 (Bhutani & Wadhwani, 2019) with China and the US leading global AI education investments (Lexalytics, 2019).

AI has started to appear in many colleges and universities to drive enrollment or to streamline operations, among others (Neelakantan, 2020). One area where we anticipate AI and machine learning to demonstrate their enormous influence is on personalized learning. Auto recommendation systems, for instance, will interact with a student based on their behavior, profile, and performance. The system can track a student’s mastery of a topic or skill through testing, and recommend other resources like videos, games, or simulation matched to their learning requirements.

With challenges like high dropout rates (Leonhardt & Chinoy, 2019), distracted learners, and ineffective one-size-fits-all school model (Yiannouka & Mouhyi, 2018), personalized learning pathways aided by AI and machine learning could help create a more engaging learning experience for students, increase their motivation, and prevent them from dropping out (Walden University, n.d.).

ai for education market value

5. Learning Analytics Help Enhance Learning Outcomes

The education industry worldwide is lagging behind other industries when it comes to adopting big data technology with only 17% implementing it in 2019; however, 74% did indicate that they may use it in the future (Statista, 2019). This is where learning analytics comes in. Several colleges and universities have been using learning analytics to understand and optimize learning outcomes.

For example, modern Learning Management Systems (LMS), have data-driven features that can measure the key indicators of a student’s performance. This was tested at the University of Baltimore in Maryland where they found a positive association between a student’s grades and their LMS usage. Students receiving Cs and Fs continually demonstrated 40% lower usage of the university’s LMS compared to students receiving a C or better (Hanover Research, 2016).

Furthermore, educational institutions can also use LMS to generate reports and key metrics like completion rate and course pass percentage that can provide insights into the effectiveness of their course design. Information like how often learners access training content when they prefer to study, and how long they spend on a material can all show educators their students’ engagement with the course content and which areas can be improved.

Additionally, learning analytics can help schools in making institutional decisions and strategies. Such was the case of Syracuse University where they employed learning analytics in their student advising programs (Grush, 2018), and Saint Louis University where big data was used to make calculated decisions regarding their admissions outreach (Selingo, 2017).

Source: Statista 2019

6. Video-based Learning Expands to Maximize the Impact of Mobile Learning

Video is a versatile medium for delivering mobile learning, and learners seem to favor it among other social media platforms. In a study by Pearson, 67% of millennials, and 82% of GenZ reported Youtube as their preferred learning platform (Pearson, 2018). 

On-demand video-based learning has been around for over a decade, but an emerging iteration is steadily gaining momentum—interactive video-based learning. This new format aims to address some of the innate problems in video learning, such as passive viewing and the inability to track the learner’s progress. Interactivity can come in the form of embedded questions, navigation menus, keywords, and pointer phrases, among others. 

With the availability of affordable and cutting-edge video technology, we predict more organizations will leverage video’s capabilities either as a stand-alone learning material or as a supplement to their face-to-face, instructor-led sessions.

Video-based Learning

Youtube as preferred learning platform

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Source: Pearson

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7. 5G Stimulates Immersive Learning Experiences

South Korea, China, and the United States have been leading developments in 5G technology. Though we have yet to see the technology’s full deployment in 2020, we can expect that once the infrastructure is set, it will impact online education, particularly immersive learning experiences, such as VR, AR, and MR. In fact, lab and fieldwork in K-12 and higher education are contributing to the rapid growth of these advanced technologies. 2019-2023 spending forecast for lab and fieldwork for higher education and K-12 are expected to grow at a CAGR of 190.1% and 168.7% respectively (IDC, 2019).

With 5G enabling IoT devices, educators are anticipating more flexible learning, immersive lessons with AR & VR, and increased automation and efficient feedback gathering from students that could allow teachers to focus on more high-value tasks. Telecommunications giant, Verizon, already awarded $1 million to universities and organizations to start bringing these use case scenarios into reality (Verizon, 2019).

Integrating 5G into learning systems offers vast opportunities, including education and immersive video services as well as case studies and innovative research collaboration (Ahmad, 2020). Aside from advancements in immersive learning, we can also expect 5G to enhance the user experience with video-based learning. This is particularly in terms of download speed of instructional videos and other learning materials. Speed also means more stable video conferencing and seamless interaction and collaboration with remote peers.

Education Contributing to Growth of AR & VR

2019-2023 spending forecast for lab and fieldwork

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Source: IDC

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8. OER Continues to Gain Widespread Adoption

College students spent about $1,290 on books and supplies during the academic year of 2018-2019 (CollegeBoard, 2019). As the cost of higher education and textbooks for students becomes increasingly expensive, we can expect Open Educational Resource (OER) to continue to gain widespread adoption. Already, US educators have expressed an increasing preference for digital learning materials over printed content, and their students also have the same growing acceptance (Seaman & Seaman, 2019). Indeed, not all OERs are digital, but the increasing acceptance of faculty and students of digital learning materials leads us to include OER as an online education trend that will become mainstream in the future.

Aside from the U.S., other nations are also supporting OER adoption as evident in UNESCO’s strong advocacy for the learning material. The agency regards as important the role of OER in the construction of open, inclusive, and participatory Knowledge Societies (UNESCO, 2019), and is currently working with its member states on a Recommendation for Future International Collaboration in the Field of OER.

9. Gamification and Serious Games Gain Momentum in The Academe

So far, we have seen how advancements in technology have been a major contributor to the shift to online education. However, we believe that in-classroom sessions will not fully become obsolete. Instead, teachers will find ways to effectively leverage technology to complement—not substitute—the intimacy and immediacy of face-to-face lessons. This approach is evident in the use of gaming technology to increase learner engagement. 

Data reveals 97% of youth in the US play video games (Pew Research, 2008), Germany and the US are tied with the highest number of gamers (11.6%) averaging more than 20 hours of gaming time per week (Limelight Networks. 2020), and that gamers have collectively spent almost 6 million years playing World of Warcraft (Cox, 2012). Clearly, games are deeply embedded in modern culture. So, it’s not surprising that educational institutions will use them in the learning process. Gamification and serious games, in particular, show some promising benefits.

Colleges and universities, for example, are using gamification strategies like badges and leaderboards to encourage student participation in school activities, motivate them to explore learning outside of the classroom, and help increase their social engagement with peers. Other universities have also used gamification to teach soft skills and to help students form a habit of lifelong learning. These efforts have shown to not only improve student motivation and success but also increase student retention for the schools (Schwartz, 2019). 

On the other hand, there is numerous literature supporting the positive effects of serious games in education. In one study, serious games proved effective in improving cognitive abilities and eliciting a positive mood towards general learning, while another evidenced that students and teachers alike were engaged longer during serious game-based learning than during nongame-based learning (Yu, 2019). The caveat with serious games is that careful consideration has to be put into designing them in order to achieve their desired effect on various learners and effectively teach the target content (Chandross & DeCourcy, 2019). 

Since not every teacher or school will have the technical skills, time, and resources to produce serious games, they might explore other educational technology tools specifically made for incorporating gamification strategies in classroom learning. For example, Quizizz and Kahoot! can help teachers turn any subject into a game. Other apps like Minecraft: Education Edition allows students to collaborate with their peers in a game world related to the topic they are discussing in class. 

There are, however, several obstacles that schools and governments need to overcome in integrating gaming technology in their in-classroom lessons. These include bridging the digital divide (access to computers and the internet), adopting teaching and evaluation methodologies, and training in the use of new tools for teaching (Dans, 2020).

10. Technology-Powered Tools Become the Future of Assessment

While we have discussed various trends on delivery methods for online education, we would be remiss if we didn’t include how learning might be assessed in the future. Technology-powered assessment tools are set to become the future of assessment. These tools can provide immediate feedback, increase efficiency and reduce teacher’s workloads, and integrate formative and summative assessments, among others (Oldfield et al., 2012).

We can also expect the rise of intelligent systems backed by AI and machine learning to perform continuous, unobtrusive testing, and deliver instruction based on what students are ready to learn (Ferrara, 2019). This means a more individualized student assessment that can be more meaningful and empowering for the learner. A notable example of this technology at work can be seen in Slackwood Elementary School in New Jersey. Teachers used an AI-assisted teaching assistant called Happy Numbers to find out what math topics students are struggling with so they can provide personalized assistance. Before introducing Happy Numbers, 60% of students attained a preliminary benchmark score of 9 out of 48 in math. After a year of implementing the AI-assistant, almost all the students performed better and raised their scores to a 35.

Additionally, AI-enabled assessment tools such as Glider.ai, Nearpod, iSpringSuite, and ProProfs Online Assessment Software are making it easier for educators to evaluate the acquisition level of their students through online quizzes, courses, questionnaires, etc.

How Can You Use These Online Education Trends to Your Advantage? 

Emerging technologies are pushing many of the developments and innovations in online education. They can democratize education, encourage self-directed learning that produces engaged and motivated learners, and help educators and trainers identify their student’s learning requirements in order to provide better support and guidance.

However, we also see how technology can’t do it alone. Strategic partnerships between Edtech companies, governments, and colleges and universities are pivotal in ushering these evolutions we cited in online education.

If your company is looking for opportunities in online education, technologies for learning and assessment, reporting and analytics, and learning management systems can be focal points of your investment. If you’re an educator, exploring different software solutions like LMS and online assessment tools can help prepare your transition to a blended learning format. Finally, if you’re a student who wants to work on a full degree, taking MOOC nanodegree programs can be an excellent, affordable way to start working on your goal.

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