Online courses have been around for a while, progressing from one-off options to MasterClasses (courses taught by field experts) and MOOC (massive open online course) providers like Udemy. The pandemic has further highlighted e-learning, as laid-off workers take classes to beef up their resumes and kids adapt to remote schooling.
What happens next with this industry? Will e-learning continue to thrive post-pandemic? Are there opportunities for small businesses in the e-learning market? The short answers—yes and yes. One forecast predicts that the e-learning market will more than double to become a $398.15 billion industry by 2026. That type of growth shouts opportunity.
You’d be right to call that online photography class you took e-learning—but the e-learning industry is more than just that.
According to Lambda Solutions, the e-learning industry includes both public-facing classes that teach people new skills and corporate internal training programs like those used to onboard remote employees. Both the content and the technology used to produce and distribute that content are pieces of the e-learning industry. Many industries use e-learning—nonprofits, healthcare, IT, and education, to name a few.
The modes of e-learning have evolved from micro-learning (bite-sized pieces of training) to social learning (e.g., live videos on Facebook) and adaptive learning (a course that adapts to the student’s learning style). As technology continues to evolve, e-learning will follow suit. For example, virtual reality and artificial intelligence are already influencing e-learning content.
With a projected growth of over $243 billion by 2022, the e-learning industry is no joke.
HolonIQ predicts that the global education market (which includes both instructor-led training and e-learning) may reach $7.3 trillion in 2025. Imagine if some of the barriers to digitizing the global education industry were overcome—such as, according to an article from CB Insights, “lack of funds to build out infrastructure, challenges in deploying tech at scale, and resistance to change”—how much of that analog training could become e-learning instead?
Some of the factors propelling the growth of the e-learning industry are easy to guess: technology changes are enabling new modes of learning, remote work and distance learning have normalized, and younger generations are growing up with phones in their hands, which means they expect to use technology.
But other pandemic-related factors will also fuel the development of the e-learning market.
The post-pandemic workforce will require a new set of skills, such as data literacy, contactless know-how, financial planning, and the technical savviness to solve IT problems remotely. Corporations will turn to e-learning to upskill their employees.
Harvard Business Review says that the pandemic forced higher education institutions to adopt e-learning and recognize that certification programs can be used in place of a 4-year degree. Lifelong learning may become the new model, with an emphasis on micro-credentials “that can stack into a larger lifelong curriculum.”
A growing e-learning market means new opportunities for small businesses and freelancers.
As a small business, you could focus on using e-learning materials as a marketing conversion tool rather than as a direct source of income. For example, you could create a YouTube video demonstrating how to sew custom curtains and include a call to action to buy your business’s sewing machine. Sure, many viewers may never make a purchase, but that video could give you brand recognition—and, possibly, a new customer.
If you want to earn direct revenue from the e-learning industry, then focus your efforts on one of the following e-learning components: providing content, creating technology to support e-learning, or administering e-learning courses.
Every e-learning scenario requires content—a course, a workshop, an e-book, or a podcast. Someone has to create that content, so why not you?
You could convert your expert knowledge into an e-learning class. It could be a “create once, sell many times” self-guided course distributed on an existing MOOC platform—a potential source of passive income. Or you could create a workshop that includes both pre-recorded content and interactive sessions with your students. While a workshop is more labor-intensive, it gives you the chance to get to know your students—and possibly convert them to long-term customers.
Perhaps you could create a training course related to other products that you sell. Software companies always sell training courses to teach customers how to use their products. If you sell equipment that requires expert operators, could you create a virtual reality class that enables the operators to learn how to use the machinery before they actually lay hands on it?
Content may be king, but the king has to live somewhere and be distributed. Most businesses use learning management systems (LMS) to store, distribute, and track business-related content. As mobile devices become indispensable, apps to distribute e-learning materials are also needed.
According to Lambda Solutions, there is still room for new LMS solutions, especially since education and corporate customers have different needs. Think about it: nurses, software users, and elementary school children all have unique learning styles. If you have deep knowledge of a specific industry and strong technical skills, you could create a new LMS platform for your industry.
Likewise, Lambda Solutions suggests that technically-savvy entrepreneurs could focus on “monetizing applications, themes, and plugins for the most popular Learning Management Systems.”
As with any digital tool, someone has to implement it, administer it, and support it. As an administrator, you don’t have to be an education expert or a video wizard, as your role is to help other businesses with the e-learning platform. For example, maybe you categorize and tag content in an e-learning catalog.
The opportunities aren’t limited to big businesses—freelancers can also create content, write an app, or help to implement an internal LMS system.
The e-learning industry is here to stay, and its rapid growth almost guarantees there is room for new players. With some financing, you could expand your business to capture a piece of the e-learning pie.