Online learning saw a massive surge during lockdowns. How are vertical market software companies responding to the needs of educators and learners?
A big year for online learning
E-learning saw a major boom in 2020, with lockdowns being the catalyst for many classrooms to go virtual. Two of the biggest online learning platforms saw triple-digit surges in enrollment within a matter of weeks during the beginning of lockdowns. Coursera saw enrollment jump 640% higher between mid-March and mid-April, compared to the same period in the previous year. Similarly, enrollment at Udemy rose 400% between February and March 2020.
Meanwhile, some of these platforms are hoping to attract investor interest given the upward momentum in the e-learning space, with Coursera recently filing an application to become a publicly-traded company.
"Online education has been gaining in prominence for the last 20 years, but it experienced a hyper-increase in popularity due to the COVID-19 pandemic."
- Sue Evans, Vice President, SoftChalk
Even before COVID-19, online learning was already on a growth trajectory. Global investments in learning technology companies reaching US$18.7 billion by the end of 2019, according to Metaari, a market research firm specializing in learning technology. And another market research firm, Technavio, projects that the market for online education will grow by US$247.5 billion between 2020 and 2024, progressing at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 18% until 2024. The market for e-learning can extend to online learning software, virtual tutoring, language learning apps, video conferencing tools, and even online extra-curriculars.
"Online education has been gaining in prominence for the last 20 years, but it experienced a hyper-increase in popularity due to the COVID-19 pandemic," says Sue Evans, Vice President of SoftChalk, a Volaris-owned software platform which allows teachers to develop custom course materials and deliver interactive content.
Role of e-learning after COVID-19
While many organizations had no choice but to adopt virtual classrooms, several data points suggest that e-learning is likely to continue playing a role in the "new normal" after the pandemic.
"The hybrid learning environment is here to stay, and we will continue to see a mix between online and in-person learning," says Trey Drake, Group Leader at Volaris Group.
"It's been a longstanding capability within corporations to use online learning because it's simply more cost-effective. Now, the pandemic has led higher education to fully embrace it too."
Digital learning has advantages for student outcomes. According to data from Statista:
- 43% of U.S. college students in 2016 found digital learning technologies extremely helpful for doing homework
- 81% of U.S. college students in 2016 found that digital learning technologies were helping them boost their grades
The hybrid learning environment is here to stay, and we will continue to see a mix between online and in-person learning.
- Trey Drake, Group Leader, Volaris Group
"We anticipate that higher education will expand their online course offerings now that virtual classrooms have been normalized by the pandemic," says Evans, whose company was acquired by Volaris in February 2021.
Vertical market software companies seize the moment
The growth of e-learning has reinforced Volaris Group's commitment to a hybrid model of learning and plans to continue expanding the education portfolio.
"There's absolutely a business to be continuing to acquire and build an ecosystem around education software companies. SoftChalk is the latest of many acquisitions we plan to do in this space," says Drake.
"The education vertical remains strong. We all want our kids to go to school, so the notion of educating kids isn't going anywhere. But the means by which we deliver materials and probably the cost structure will evolve."
Evans agrees that the space will continue to mature. Thanks to support from Volaris, her company is ready to adapt to future changes.
"With the support of Volaris, we plan to continue responding to the new demands of the post-pandemic learning landscape and introduce new products as our customers' needs require," she says.