In a world where change is constant, there is a perpetual need to learn new skills, acquire knowledge and gain qualifications that are relevant in today's technologically driven marketplace. In a thriving digital economy, the demand for skilled professionals with both technical and analytical skills is stimulating job creation and creating competition amongst employers looking to secure valuable talent.
In the US, the professional development market is growing to such an extent it is expected to generate $8.5 billion by 2020. This demand is due to professionals needing and wanting to upskill and has created a new breed of students. Armed with knowledge and choice, they know what and how they want to learn. With such direct demand for learning, in order to stay competitive, colleges, universities and training providers need to provide courses and curriculum that are not only flexible but can be accessed at anytime, anywhere.
In such a competitive and time-starved world, online learning provides people - from recent graduates to mid-level professionals - with the tools to add value to their current skill set and broaden their horizons without the constraints of time or place.
Learning comes under pressure
In recent years, colleges and universities have come under increasing pressure as costs have risen. This increase is due to investments in expensive technology, teachers’ salaries and administrative costs. While governments have confirmed that they can no longer afford to subsidize their educational efforts as generously as they used to.
Colleges in the US have been particularly hard hit with some analysts predicting mass bankruptcies within two decades. To fund the shortfall, universities have passed their rising costs onto students raising fees by more than 25% and making the student debt in the US add up to $1.2 trillion.
Along with financial pressure, the business model for many educational institutions is under threat from advances in technology. Learning is no longer limited to the classroom as people can upskill or retrain online through a laptop or smartphone. These pressures all lead to a third great change; the fact that while colleges and universities were once confined to teaching the elite, they are now responsible for training and re-training people throughout their career, not just at the start.
For universities and colleges looking to reduce costs an d increase ROI, online learning has the power to significantly reduce overheads (manpower and classroom-based resources) and can also assist with scalability. After all, there are only so many students and teachers that can fit into one class, but in the virtual realm, space and resources are almost endless.
As employers move from degree-based hiring to competency-based hiring, many will determine that degrees are not a priority or even required for certain jobs. Over the next few years, degrees are likely to become MIA in many job descriptions and this will lead an increasing number of students to seek postsecondary education bundles that are shorter, less expensive, and more clearly connected to careers or even specific employers.” - Ryan Craig, Managing Partner at University Ventures
A surge in continuing education
For educators, this means that the demand for retraining and continuing education is at an all-time high, as a result of globalization, as well as automation shrinking the number of jobs that fall into the middle tier of education. In terms of its appeal, online learning is attractive to a broader spectrum of subscribers seeking professional development. In addition, with the use of smartphones on the rise, mobile is evolving as a popular way to learn on-the-go. The proof is in the numbers as just four years ago the global market for mobile learning products and services reached $5.3 billion. By 2017 it is projected to more than double to exceed $12 billion.
While universities and employers may have once seen online education as an add-on to traditional courses this is clearly no longer the case. With 3.3 million web searches for online learning and 69% of those searching educated to degree level, the demand for professional education is obvious. Offering high-quality online education not only benefits students, but it can also prove an invaluable method of learning and a financial lifeline for the continuing development programs of educational institutions.
Corporate learning goes online
For global organizations, digital transformation is high on the agenda of senior executives looking to compete in the digital economy. Due to the pace of digital, technologies and channels change at an alarming rate and in order to keep up employees need to continuously learn to stay ahead. For many organizations, online learning provides a flexible and simple way to upskill staff in a scalable way.
One example of a corporate adopting online learning successfully on a global scale is Deloitte. The Deloitte Leadership Academy provides employees with access to training videos, content along with self-assessments which guide participants through a series of missions, earning badges and leaderboard ranking. With a 37% increase (per week) in returning site visitors and a total of 20,000 users since its debut, the platform proves the usability of flexible learning.
The future of online learning
While classroom learning is still valued in today's modern world, many people no longer need or want to be tied to a particular place or time to learn new skills. In fact, according to the National Center for Education Statistics, in the US, around 25% of all college and university students are now enrolled in distance education courses.
In its early stages, the vast majority of Chief Academic Officers at colleges and universities were very skeptical of online learning. Today, many rate the outcome of online education just as highly as those studying in face-to-face environments. Moreover, while more than 70% believe that online learning is essential to their institution’s long-term strategy. It’s a real testament to the power of online learning.
As a result, an increasing number of institutions are offering flexible online learning solutions in addition to their traditional syllabuses, while smaller schools and universities are expected to offer almost entirely online based courses in the not so distant future. In addition to the projected growth of mobile learning products and the corporate learning and development sector, the future for online learning appears dazzling bright.