Online education has expanded rapidly with the rise of the internet and in 2022 there are a huge variety of websites and learning platforms that people are making use of to learn about a huge range of topics.
Online learning ranges from the very formal to the very informal, and it is much easier to collect valid statistics on the extent of formal online learning compared to informal online learning, because the former have hard data on the number of student enrolments and degree of engagement for example, data which might not exist for the more informal learning that takes place online.
Examples of formal online learning include universities putting their courses online, workplaces running online training courses and courses run through online learning platforms such as Coursera.
Informal learning is much more difficult to measure at it involves people hacking together an education using whatever free sources they can fund – by using YouTube videos to learn new skills for example.
Gathering data on the extent of online learning is complicated by the fact that there isn’t a clear boundary between using the internet for education and using it for entertainment, not to say, of course, that education can’t in itself be entertaining.
In this post I gather together some data which gives us an insight into the nature and extent of both formal and informal online learning in the world today, taking a global focus.
My reason for doing this is to demonstrate how significant online learning is in relation to formal education in schools, colleges and universities. I don’t believe a sociology of education should ignore these trends in online learning simply because online learning plays an increasingly significant role in many people’s lives, especially in people’s adult lives.
I also focus on the problems of collecting valid data on the extent of online learning in 2022.
Formal and informal online learning
Ranging from the formal to the informal, four basic types of online learning include….
- The rise of virtual schools offering formally recognised national curriculums.
- The rise of online digital learning platforms such as Udemy
- The increase in independent people offering education and training on YouTube and other channels
- The increase in ordinary people sharing their stories, experiences and life-experiments, and the increased interest in people consuming these.
An Overview of Global Online Learning
According to Global Market Insights (1) the value of the global e-learning market was over $315 billion in 2021.
70% of demand for online learning comes from the U.S.A and Europe (3)
Coursera’s statistics (6) show us that America has the most online learners, followed by India, and we can see that online learning is truly a global phenomenon!
80% of employers use online learning platforms…
America leads the way in virtual schools and in 2019-20, 40 there were 477 full-time virtual schools that enrolled 332,379 students, and 306 blended schools that enrolled 152,530 students (2).
NB as I understand it these are schools offering an officially recognised curriculum leading to formal exams, so this is a very formal type of online education.
Online learning platforms
Elearning Industry (8) lists 893 online learning platforms as of December 2022, unfortunately there is no data on how many courses are offered across these platforms or how many people are making use of them.
If you do a Google Search for ‘how many learning platforms are there’ Google returns search results for blogs outlining the ‘best’ platforms, not necessarily those with the most users, for example Thinkific (9) provides 10 of the best which include LinkdIn learning, Coursera and Udemy.
So if you want to find out how many people are making use of online learning platforms, you need to look at the stats from the individual platforms (and there may be overlap, some people enrolled on a Coursera course are also going to be doing a Udemy Courses!).
I don’t have time to trawl through almost 900 online learning platforms to collect the data but to look two of the biggest:
In 2021 Coursera had 92 million registered learners and 189 million enrolments (4)
In 2022 Udemy had 52 million learners and 213 000 courses (5)
So two of the largest platforms have 150 million people currently enrolled on their courses, so it’s not unreasonable to assume that across all learning platforms it’s likely that there are several hundred million people globally doing some kind of formally structured course on such platforms.
Learning Management Systems
Learner Management Systems are back end solutions for managing learners’ data while Online Learning Platforms are front-end packages.
I’m not analysing use of online Learner Management Systems (LMSs) here because pretty much every school, college and university will make use of an LMS to manage their learners’ data.
Educational blogs and vlogs
Many blogs and vlogs are educational, it is very difficult to get statistics on how many exist because many accounts include content which is both educational and purely for entertainment.
There must be well over a million ‘high quality’ educational videos on YouTube alone, produced by institutions such as the BBC and TED, the latest data i could find from 2015 put the figure at 700 000 videos on YouTubeEdu (10), so today there must be many more.
Educational content can range from the academic to videos designed to help people figure out ‘how to present themselves online’ as in the picture below…
TBH I’m not sure how I’d even go about designing a methodology to quantify the number of educational blogs and vlogs online, let alone the number of people consuming them.
Suffice to say, there are A LOT!
One thing I have learned from researching this is that online learning via blogs and vlogs is something of a fragmented and overwhelming experience!
TED (Technology Education and Design) is worth a special mention as many of the talks are relevant to sociology. The TED channel hosts thousands of videos, its YouTube channel has over 22 million subscribers and the most popular talk by Ken Robinson: Do Schools Kill Creativity has 22 million views.
The problem with global statistics on elearning!
Even formal online learning is difficult to measure as there is no body monitoring the total number of online learners (as far as I am aware), and manually trawling through almost 1000 online learning platforms would take a long time.
Most of the available global statistics come from private companies who themselves offer online learning services. The first problem with this is that there can be a barrier in the form of a significant pay wall (7), another possible problem is with the validity of the data because these companies may use methods of data collection which deliberately exaggerate the extent of online learning: doing so makes it seem like institutions should invest more in online learning to keep up with an inevitable trend.
As to informal learning it is very difficult to measure how many educational blogs and vlogs there are simply because there is so much educational content out there!
Hence what we know about the nature and extent of online learning in 2023 is based on samples of those companies that do publish data, and there is no way this is representative of all online learning!
(1) Global Market Insights – E-learning market trends.
(2) National Education Policy Centre – Virtual Schools in the U.S. 2021.
(3) Upskillwise – Online Learning Statistics
(4) Coursera 2021 report.
(5) Udemy – About Udemy.
(6) World Economic Forum – charts on global e-learning
(7) For example the Gartner Report apparently contains some data on online learning but I can’t access it because it is so expensive!
(9) Thinkific – Top 10 online learning platforms.
(10) Wikipedia entry on YouTube and education.
This material is meant as an update to the sociology of education.
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