Surge in demand for online learning & alternative credentials during COVID-19

  • Home
  • / Blog /
  • Surge in demand for online learning & alternative credentials during COVID-19

Disruption in the education industry caused by COVID-19 resulted in over 1.37 billion students being out of classrooms by the end of March 2020. Millions of students were only able to learn online & began studying remotely through technologies such as Google Classroom & Zoom, as well as apps delivered by the world’s most enterprising EdTech companies (such as Ruangguru, the most prominent EdTech provider in Southeast Asia). This has led to digital technologies currently being used as the primary source of imparting education, and an accelerated continuous movement to improve the quality of online education, skills-based training & affordable credentials. The pandemic is aligning education delivery with digital technologies like never before.


Sean Gallagher, an executive professor of education policy at Northeastern University, USA has even said the following – “This looks to be a catalytic moment. Like what’s happened with rapid digitization of so many other areas of our daily lives, we’ve probably gained in a few months a level of interest & participation in online education that would have steadily played out over years”.


Signs of a disruption happening in the education industry were becoming evident even before the pandemic struck. A significant & extensive survey of over 11,000 students in 19 countries conducted by Pearson in 2019 (and repeated in 2020) found that –

  • 68% students agreed that a degree or certificate from a vocational college or trade school was more likely to result in a good job with career prospects than a university degree.
  • At least ¾ of those surveyed believed that you have to keep learning after college to stay relevant in your career. This rose to over 90% in Australia, Canada, China, Argentina, Colombia, Mexico & South Africa.
  • Among employed respondents who had opted for further education, many more had chosen self-training/teaching themselves via internet resources or taken courses provided by employers or professional associations than had undertaken up-skilling from a college or university.


In further proof of this disruption, Google announced in July 2020 that it was –

  • Offering 3 new 6-month programmes – data analytics, project management & user experience design (delivered on Coursera) resulting in “Google Career Certificates”, and
  • Treating these certificates on par with 4-year degrees in its hiring practices.

With this offering, Google has clearly positioned its certificates as alternatives to college degrees. Industry experts have noted that Google’s announcement is a significant bellwether of a trend towards greater acceptance of certificates by employers.


However, all this does not herald the end of demand for college degrees. As Dr. Paul LeBlanc, president of Southern New Hampshire University, UK has said – “A degree remains a signal of other attributes, other than the specific skills needed for a job in the moment”. He also added that there are signs that rather than becoming obsolete, 4-year , degrees are actually becoming more popular “as an entry-level hiring barrier” because companies are becoming more selective in tough pandemic times.

All of the above gives rise to the possibility that, in this time of disruption, college degrees could be moving more into the category of luxury goods for some students & families, leaving ample room for alternatives such as online certificates, industry certifications & microcredentials to penetrate the mainstream. These short term offerings offer –

  • Affordability
  • Relevancy
  • Stackability – meaning that several certificates obtained over time can eventually lead to a more valuable specialization or even a degree.
  • Flexible Scheduling

As Sean Gallagher of Northeastern has said – “Why commit to a long-term investment when your situation & options may change in a month.


Some examples of the most impressive results in online offerings lately have been the followoing –


  • In the first 24 hours of service launched in March 2020, more than 1.5 million students accessed Indonesia’s Ruangguru app, surpassing apps such as WhatsApp & TikTok. By end of school year 2020, 7 million students signed up for Ruangguru’s classes. The company currently claims 17 million registered learners.
  • Language learning app Duolingo recorded a 108% in traffic over March 2020.
  • China’s Koolern, GSX and Youdao enrolled 10 million students in free online classes.
  • Coursera recorded a 520% increase in enrolments from mid-March to June 2020 compared to the same period in 2019.
  • Byju’s, the Indian online learning app, gained 6 million new users in March 2020, a surge of 150%.
  • Brazil’s Estacio saw a 55% growth in Q1 2020 in online distance learning enrolments.


As Kyrill Pyshkin, senior portfolio manager at Credit Suisse notes – “Last year, before the crisis, we’re talking a digital penetration of about 2-3 % in the education sector. That’s what mobile phone penetration rates were in 1998-99. At the peak of the current crisis, we were above 90%”.


Source : ICEF

Leave a Reply

error: Content is protected !!