FutureLearn: Online Education Is The Next Marketplace Wave

Edtech has developed far beyond the days of language learning apps and accelerated online marketplace trends which we have witnessed in other industry segments such as travel and food have now come for higher education.

Back in 2012, with the utopian rise of online courses, this future was hard to envisage – but as universities have understood the power of online learning to identify talented future campus students, and as a profit centre for the school, entry barriers to developing a profitable online marketplace platform for educational products have fallen away.

In parallel we’ve witnessed other trends accelerating the digitisation of education, namely:

1. The democratisation of what it means to be an educator: this is a role no longer limited to higher education institutions, but expanding out to highly skilled individuals and industry players.

2. The acceleration of internet and mobile penetration in non-Western economies: surfacing latent and vast demand for digital education products.

3. Expanding access to education: digital teaching allows a level of reach completely unfeasible in the campus model, and access to different student pools is now tearing down many of historic assumptions around qualifications and study credentials required to succeed within a given area.

4. Workforce disruption: no longer can you study at the age of 18-22 and hope to be set up for life – workplace skills, both hard and soft are shifting at pace, requiring employees to re-skill regularly. At the same time, employers are looking to invest in their workforces in order to design and retain the ideal mix of employees. Barriers to employment are also accelerating past requiring an undergraduate degree.

5. COVID-19 has accelerated the move to remote and digital: a change which we are currently witnessing across our societies as we look to minimise health risks for the populace.

The combination of these factors, along with the powerful network effects of marketplace businesses, is behind the acceleration of online learning platforms. According to Andreesen Horowitz’s recent a16z marketplace top 100, three of the world’s largest and fastest growing consumer companies were edtech marketplaces – and this was before the coronavirus outbreak.

Today we can see edtech marketplaces ranked in Alexa’s top 1000 sites worldwide (with two in the top 250) and growth is continuing to be accelerated by lockdown: driven by consumer demand for online degrees and access to tools to upskill on hard and soft skills for the workplace, the closure of campuses globally, and acceleration of automation and technology in the workplace.

So what’s next? We will hopefully exit lockdown in coming months, but with the World Economic Forum predicting that 42% of core skills required to perform existing jobs are expected to change by 2022 – increasing acceptance and utilisation of online learning products globally and with 2.3bn people in Asia online compared to 1bn a mere 8 years ago, the underlying accelerators of edtech marketplace growth don’t seem to be going away.

By Susannah Belcher, Chief Revenue and Data Officer at FutureLearn

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