Online learning is having a moment.
With stay-at-home orders lingering for months, some of the leaders in online courses and programs have seen dramatic spikes in people learning from home. LinkedIn recently announced that, in the first week of April alone, people watched 1.7 million hours of learning content on LinkedIn Learning. Udemy enrollments had a 425% spike overall and an 80% increase in business consumption. During the 30-day period ending May 20, Coursera saw nearly 300% more course enrollment than for the same period in 2019.
Many have more free time because they’re not commuting, have suffered a job loss, or have curtailed their social lives, and people are looking for something to do, says Shelley Osborne, vice president of learning at Udemy, an online course provider. “They’re accessing learning because it seems like a productive, positive thing to do with their lives.”
Beneath the surface, some interesting trends have emerged both in terms of popular subject areas and the communities online learners are building.
Working from home
When stay-at-home orders went into effect, many people who could work from home suddenly found themselves thrust into a new world of taking videoconferences in their spare bedroom. At first, LinkedIn Learning’s team saw a spike in courses related to the basics of using remote-work tools, such as Zoom and Microsoft Teams, says Hari Srinivasan, vice president of product management for LinkedIn Learning.
Now that at-home workers have settled in, their online course choices have shifted to being more effective and productive while doing that remote work, says Srinivasan, adding that enrollment in courses such as “The 6 Morning Habits of High-Performers” is up 370%, and “Building Resilience” is up about 180%. “We even had a spike on our course on how to do back exercises when you’re on the desk,” he says. People are looking for information on how to adjust to this new environment beyond using the tools, he says.
People are also using the time to build skills that will help them in their jobs—or help them find new jobs, says Shravan Goli, chief product officer and head of consumer revenue at Coursera. Some of the growth areas the online learning platform is seeing include managing a remote workforce, digitization, e-commerce, cloud technologies, and collaboration tools. The company is also seeing demand for certificate-earning courses increase as employees try to find ways to improve their marketability.
At Udemy, Osborne says finance, web development, data science, and graphic design courses are all seeing big surges.
Goli says the pandemic has also spurred interest in both personal and public health courses. “There has been an attention on personal development and mental well-being and personal health, itself. We’re seeing a significant increase in interest in those two domains,” he says.
Coursera has also seen a jump in public health information interest, especially COVID-19-related content. Johns Hopkins University recently launched a course on contact tracing. Within three weeks, it had more than 318,000 enrollments and 106,000 completions.
All of those watercolor paintings and loaves of sourdough bread in your social media feeds are another good indicator of course interest. Osborne says that Udemy saw a spike in courses related to personal interests and new hobbies. Ukulele course enrollment increased 292%, and demand for learning about technical drawing soared 920%. Kids got in on the act too; “Art for Kids” saw a 530% increase. Pilates course enrollment grew 102%, and meditation bumped 111%.
Adobe Illustrator is Udemy’s most popular course category in the U.S. during the period of sheltering in place, Osborne says. Within that category, there is a wide range of classes. Some courses are 18 hours long, others are 1.5 hours. Format-wise, they are typically a combination of lectures, assignments, and accompanying resources, depending on the topic.
Something else is happening with online learning that Srinivasan says is worth noting: People are bonding in learning communities.
Just as a cohort of classmates form small communities—and, sometimes, long-term friendships—Srinivasan is seeing groups of online classmates bonding, studying together, and helping each other.
“We invest in things like learning groups and the ability to share things to your network and Q&A, where you can ask a question and the instructor will come back and talk through it. And we’re just seeing massive jumps—300% increase—in people joining these learning groups,” he says. People are discovering that there are communities of other learners out there who can help them. Even instructors are networking and interacting more with their students, he says.
With so many people either still at home or venturing slowly back to the office, the combination of like-minded learners and the need for connection may be creating communities that help each other in more ways than one.
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