In some parts of the world, the e-learning industry is growing at close to 20% annually. Online learning is a cost-effective way for people to access training and education, and an effective way for brands and governments to deliver it. With more and more solutions making it easy to create online courses, and the internet helping promote and deliver it, e-learning is growing right around the world.
In fact, in the five years leading to 2023 online learning is expected to evolve into an industry worth over $65bn. The genius of e-learning is that it’s a cost-effective way for people to access the training they need at the time when they are able to complete it. It’s also relatively straightforward for non-conventional training providers to reach their intended audiences.
Whilst remote learning in the UK used to be delivered by a collaboration of the Open University with late night broadcasters, the field is now far more open to non-traditional providers.
E-learning also seems to suit modern society’s informal approach and our contemporary expectations of being able to access the information we need when we need it. People have more complex careers than in the past, and learning needs to be lifelong because the pace of technological change means people need to be more adaptive at work.
This means students are likely to be juggling education with things such as work and family responsibilities.
E-learning for global development
E-learning is seen as an obvious solution to raising education standards in parts of the world where the formal education system is not well-established. Delivered by mobile, e-learning could be an option to help reach rural students and nomadic tribespeople in parts of the world such as sub-Saharan Africa.
Here, post-secondary education level attendance is some of the lowest in the world, and some parts of Africa have shockingly high drop-out rates in STEM subjects as students face problems such as extreme economic insecurity.
On an individual level that’s a tragedy but at a national level it’s holding back development because there just aren’t enough graduates to fuel economic growth.
Although it’s an obvious solution in parts of the world where education isn’t already well-established, the biggest consumers of e-learning seem to be North America, Asia and Western Europe.
In 2016 North America represented half of the online learning market. In this mature e-learning market, and in Western Europe, it tends to be corporate training that’s behind a lot of this market.
In Asia, it’s government-funded initiatives to improve rural education, particularly literacy, that’s the driving force behind the 17% annual growth rate in the online learning sector. Government is also influential in the Middle East, where e-learning is used particularly to educate the public sector.
One of the advantages of e-learning is that it enables students to study at their own pace and weather storms such as household financial problems or even disruptions such as political violence or drought.
Barriers to study don’t just affect emerging markets. People in established markets also have expectations for being able to study when and where they want, in the same way, they can shop online or consume films and media at a time and place of their choosing.
It’s also arguable that there’s a higher need for lifelong learning to help workers face the realities of professional life. E-learning can help people keep up to date with essential regulation for their existing career, or move forward in life by adding additional work-related qualifications even later in their career.
This seems to match modern working life, where a job (or even a career) is no longer for life and the job market moves quickly thanks to technological change. E-learning programmes can be used internationally but they may need to be tailored and adapted to local audiences.
This doesn’t just involve translating the language in use. If you’re adapting an e-learning programme into a new market you may also need to adapt the content to make it more appropriate to local needs and expectations.
As an example, anyone that’s been through the Chinese education system usually expects to conclude any lesson with a test and for their performance to be ranked. A Chinese audience may find your training more relevant if you offer this, whilst a European audience may not have the same expectation.
One major slice of the e-learning pie is represented by internal training. Many large international brands find online learning resources are the best way to achieve a united training standard for all their employees.
Online learning can help ensure a cohesive induction process for all global employees, that’s on-brand and controlled from head office. It can be delivered in one standard business language or translated for local teams if that’s appropriate.
This means training can be standardised across huge organisations, even if employees are scattered across the globe and in many different offices.
Content can be created relatively quickly and translated to meet local needs in multinational organisations. It’s far quicker and more cost-effective than in-person training, and it’s also less disruptive to business because workers don’t all need to be released for training at the same time as their colleagues.
Online training can also help brands meet their compliance objectives by tracking who has completed which training and when. Some financial services organisations will commission their own tailored compliance courses for employees to complete online.
The organisation’s head office can then track who has completed what training, when it was completed, and what pass mark was achieved. This helps ensure compliance and also prove that teams have been trained.
E-learning can also be put together quickly using readily available digital tools. This helps companies respond quickly when they need to skill up their teams in a hurry.
But it doesn’t necessarily guarantee quality. There’s a lot of poor quality e-learning on offer. Despite the tremendous possibilities this training channel offers, it’s vital to maintain quality.
A huge volume of e-learning materials are being created around the world; not all of this training is of good quality. To stand out in a crowded field it’s important to produce strong content in a high-quality format and ideally tailor it to suit the needs of your audience.