Online Education Statistics in 2021

Online education has been on the upswing for the last decade, and the COVID-19 pandemic has only increased our reliance on digital learning methods.

There are so many different e-learning options out there: You can audit college philosophy classes for free, enroll in full online master’s degrees, use short videos to supplement an elementary school curriculum, take virtual museum tours, and more.

Curious about online learning trends in 2021?

In this article, I’ll look at e-learning by the numbers: How big is the online education market? How many students are using MOOCs? How many middle school students use digital tools on a daily basis? And how has the pandemic changed teaching and learning?

Mind-Blowing Online Learning Statistics

  • The online education market is expected to hit $350 billion by 2025.
  • Coursera is one of the biggest online education platforms, boasting 66 million learners and 4300+ courses.
  • Before the COVID-19 pandemic, 45% of elementary schoolers, 64% of middle schoolers, and 63% of high schoolers reported daily use of digital learning tools.
  • Over 1.2 billion children in 180+ countries have been forced out of the classroom due to COVID-related school closures in 2020.
  • 77% of U.S. parents reported that their children had received some online instruction from their schools during the COVID-related closures of physical campuses.
  • While 87% of college students were very or somewhat satisfied with their university courses before the COVID-related move to remote instruction, 59% were very or somewhat satisfied after the move to remote instruction.
  • 90% of corporations use digital education and training methods—while only 4% did in 1995.
  • An IBM study indicates that employees learn almost 5 times more material using online and digital training methods—with no additional time needed for training.
  • MasterClass, the online learning platform with celebrity instructors, is currently valued at $800 million.

Curious to learn more about these stats and the 2021 e-learning landscape?

Read on for more information on the online education market, the popularity of massive open online courses (MOOCs), the impact of COVID-19 on education, and e-learning in the business world.

The Online Education Market

1. The online education market is expected to hit $350 billion by 2025.

The two biggest countries driving this market growth are the United States and China, while India’s online education market has also grown substantially in recent years.

2. The massive open online course (MOOC) market was valued at a little over $5 billion in 2019 and is projected to reach over $20 billion by 2025.

While the largest MOOC market is in North America, the fastest-growing region is Asia-Pacific.

3. Even before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, the online learning market in the United States was expected to grow to over $6 billion between 2017 and 2022.

Digital teaching and learning methods have been on the upswing over the last decade, and that rise is likely to continue.

4. Apart from the United States, China, and India, some of the largest investors in e-learning include South Korea, United Kingdom, and Côte d’Ivoire.

Meanwhile, within the European Union, Germany is one of the biggest drivers in the growth of online education.

Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs)

5. Some of today’s largest MOOC providers include: Coursera, edX, The Great Courses, Skillshare, Udacity, Udemy, and CreativeLive.

MOOCs are designed to broaden access to education, allowing anyone with an interest and an internet connection to enroll. These open-access courses often combine typical materials (such as readings and films) with interactive elements (such as discussion boards).

6. Within the EU, major MOOC platforms include: iversity, OpenClassrooms, and openHPI.

Berlin-based iversity has been active since 2013, while openHPI has been hosted by the Hasso Plattner Institute in Potsdam, Germany since 2012. OpenClassrooms comes from France and offers training in vocational and digital skills. The wonderful thing about MOOCs is that you’re not limited by location—no matter where you are in the world, you can benefit from a huge array of free, open-access courses.

7. Online education platform Coursera has 66 million learners and 4,300+ courses.

The platform makes a vast quantity of college-level instruction available completely free.

8. EdX has 24 million unique users from 196 countries and a catalogue of over 3,000 courses, plus a roster of over 5700 instructors.

When EdX partnered with MIT to offer the MOOC “Circuits and Electronics” in 2012, the class attracted 155,000 students, around 7,200 of whom ultimately completed the course. As of September 2019, almost 500,000 students had accessed the class.

Researchers at EdX and MIT have also studied how we teach and learn; they have found that, to increase student engagement, MOOC videos should show the instructor (in addition to slides and images) and clock in at 6 minutes or less.

9. Udemy, founded in 2010, how has over 50 million students, 1/3 from within the United States, and 2/3 from the other 190+ countries of the world.

This huge learning platform helps students learn new skills to advance in their careers.

10. Udacity, which specializes in computer science, AI, programming, and other technical areas, has around 11.5 million students.

The platform is known for its Nanodegree programs, which allow students to target specific skills.

11. While much online education takes place in English, many courses are available in a wide array of languages; Coursera, for example, has video subtitles in over 40 languages, while EdX provides some classes in Spanish, French, and Chinese.

Instructors on Udemy may create courses in any language they choose, and its Help Center may be viewed in English, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Polish, Portuguese, Spanish, and Turkish.

Online Education in U.S. Academia and University Life

12. Many learners prefer online learning: One survey found that slightly over half of graduate student respondents viewed their online college-level education more favorably than their in-person classroom experiences.

This survey included 1500 students (aged 18 and up) within the United States. Graduate students had the most positive views of e-learning overall, with 52% viewing their online instruction as better than in-person, 38% viewing it as about the same, and only 10% viewing it as worse.

50% of undergraduates viewed their online education experiences as about the same quality as in-person, with 39% saying that online instruction was better, and 11% saying it was worse.

13. Online learners believe their courses have helped them develop the “soft skills” desired by employers.

According to a 2019 survey of online college students by Learning House, over 60% of respondents reported that their online classes had helped them develop skills such as critical thinking, problem solving, oral communication, and teamwork.

14. The Learning House survey discovered that 93% of online college students enrolled in their programs to pursue career goals. 33% of undergraduates indicated that they wanted either to earn more money or embark on a new career.

Graduate and undergraduate students alike noted career motivations for undertaking online education.

15. 63% of survey respondents chose online study (instead of in-person) because it best fit into their lives and was compatible with their work/life schedules.

34% of respondents, in contrast, said they selected an online program because it was their preferred learning method.

16. How do students choose their schools/online programs? Survey results show that primary factors include cost, school reputation, quick time to degree, ability to take both online and in-person classes with the same program, and quality of faculty.

Somewhat surprisingly, around 20% of respondents cited the program’s geographical location (close to either home or workplace) as an important factor. Even though e-learning can occur across any distance, many students still choose to enroll in a local program.

17. Many online students (56%) access and complete coursework using mobile devices such as smartphones or tablets.

Mobile device use is more pronounced among younger generations than among students aged 45+. Although students seem to like (and often prefer) to use mobile devices, 17% of survey respondents indicated that their online program was incompatible with mobile access.

18. Around half of online college students belong to the Millennial generation.

That makes Millennials the largest consumers of online college education, and means that these online learners tend to be a bit older than the “traditional” college ages of 18-22. Around one third of online college learners belongs to Generation X. The remaining 1/6 of online college learners belong to younger (Gen Z) and older (Baby Boomer) generations.

19. Business remains the program of choice for online undergraduate and graduate students alike. In 2019, 26% of undergraduates and 30% of graduates who enrolled in an online program opted to pursue a Business program.

Among undergraduates, other top fields of online study include: Computers & IT, Arts & Humanities, and Health & Medicine. Among graduates, popular online programs are in: Computers & IT, Health & Medicine, Education & Teaching, and STEM.

Impact of COVID-19 on U.S. Academic and University Life

20. A 2020 survey by Digital Promise and Langer Research Associates found that 43% of students who quickly shifted to online classes during the spring 2020 semester had no prior experience with online learning, while 21% had experience taking one online course.

COVID-19 has had a drastic effect on university education and forced many students and professors to adapt quickly to online classes. Many had their first experiences with online education during the hectic spring semester, when many universities abruptly sent students home and closed their campuses.

21. Common components of college courses that were shifted online due to COVID include: live Q&A and discussion sessions, recorded lectures, quizzes and assessments, and live lectures.

According to survey respondents, 60% or more of college classes incorporated these elements. In contrast, Zoom breakout rooms were less commonly used (in 25% of online courses).

22. In terms of tech devices, 79% of college students used laptops to access their course materials during the remote instruction of the spring 2020 semester.

15% of students relied on a desktop computer, while only 3% and 2% used tablets and smartphones respectively. 10% of students reported that they had to share their devices with other users.

Tech problems troubled some students: Over 40% of students in this post-COVID survey responded that they had at least occasional problems with internet connectivity, and over 20% reported at least occasional hardware or software problems.

23. While 87% of college students were very or somewhat satisfied with their courses before the move to remote instruction, 59% were very or somewhat satisfied after the move to remote instruction.

Student satisfaction thus fell considerably when instruction moved online due to COVID, but notably, the majority of students remained at least somewhat satisfied. Moreover, as many educators have observed, spring 2020 classes were forced online suddenly, without adequate time for preparation. Student happiness is understandably quite low when courses are hastily prepared and when they are expecting a fully in-person experience.

24. In particular, 65% of students found that their ability to cooperate with their classmates was worse online post-pandemic, while 57% had a harder time staying interested in the course content.

Online educators face the challenge of engaging students effectively, encouraging them to form relationships among their classmates and maintain their motivation to grasp the material. When asked to identify challenges to their participation in online courses, 42% of students cited the difficulty of staying motivated as a major problem, 20% had major trouble finding a quiet place to study and do coursework, and 17% struggled considerable to juggle online coursework with other responsibilities.

25. By following recommended practices for online education, instructors were more likely to be viewed favorably by students. Instructors who implemented 6-8 recommended practices generally 74% of students satisfied (as opposed to instructors who used 0-2 recommended practices, whose proportion of satisfied students was 43%).

These “best practices” include: breaking longer classes into shorter segments and activities; using “breakout rooms” during classes to facilitate small-group discussion; sending personalized messages to students; illustrating concepts using real-world examples; and incorporating frequent quizzes or methods of assessment.

Impact of COVID-19 on K-12 Education and Daily Life

26. Over 1.2 billion children in 180+ countries were forced out of the classroom due to COVID-related school closures in 2020.

There’s no doubt that the COVID-19 pandemic has had a huge impact on how people around the world go about their lives. Children and students have been heavily affected as they adjust to a daily schedule without in-person classrooms, playdates, and instruction.

27. In the midst of the pandemic, 93% of U.S. adults reported that a power outage or other interruption to their internet service would constitute a problem for daily life.

Because in-person gatherings are discouraged, people have increasingly shifted to rely on digital technologies, using the internet to do everything from ordering groceries and takeout, to paying rent and bills, to connecting with family members across the globe, to accessing online courses. Internet access has become essential for countless aspects of daily life, including education.

28. Within the United States, 83% of parents approved at least somewhat of how their children’s schools handled instruction during the closures due to COVID, and 77% reported that their children had received some online instruction from the school during the closure of the physical campus.

Nevertheless, many parents, especially lower-income parents, worry that their children might fall behind on their school work.

29. In a 2019 survey, 65% of K-12 teachers said that they used digital tools daily, though most teachers still wanted more information and evidence on the pedagogical efficacy of the tools they used.

This statistic indicates that even before the pandemic, use of digital tools was on the rise in education.

30. According to Statista, 45% of elementary schoolers, 64% of middle schoolers, and 63% of high schoolers reported daily use of digital learning tools in 2019.

It is extremely likely that those numbers will increase in the wake of the pandemic.

Online Learning in the Business World

31. 90% of corporations use digital education and training methods—while only 4% did in 1995.

These methods encompass things like workshops and conferences, instruction in new skills and techniques such as sales or recruitment, orientations for new employees, and so on. These training sessions are increasingly conducted virtually rather than in face-to-face settings.

32. The corporate e-learning market is expected to increase by $38 billion between 2020 and 2024.

Companies have found that more and more trainings can be conducted online. E-learning saves time and money, reduces risk, and conveys just as much (if not more) information. Moreover, online training modules can often be accessed by the employee later for a refresher.

33. According to a Brandon-Hall study, e-learning tends to take up 40% to 60% less of an employee’s time to learn the same body of material.

Likewise, IBM has found that introducing digital training methods increased how much employees learned while reducing time spent in training.

E-learning thus has huge potential to increase revenue. Based on IBM’s results, every $1 invested in online training yields $30 in return, since employees can return to work and use their new skills more quickly. IBM has saved millions of dollars by implementing e-learning procedures, in part because it no longer has to pay large sums for travel and hotels for in-person training events.

34. Online education is greener: Creating and providing an online course consumes 87% less energy and yields 85% fewer carbon dioxide emissions than an equivalent in-person course.

These results come from a study conducted by Britain’s Open University, which concluded that online courses are significantly better for the environment than in-person classes.


The world of online education was already fast-changing and growing as we entered 2020.

However, the unprecedented disruptions of the COVID-19 pandemic are likely to heighten the importance of e-learning for years into the future. More students and instructors than ever before now have experience with online education. Countless in-person courses have been adapted to an online format, and new ones conceived.

Expect online education to stay on the rise, as educators innovate and find new ways to engage students and create a sense of community in the virtual classroom.

Justin Brown is the founder of and an expert on online education. If you would like to interview him about online education trends, please email him at

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Justin Brown

I'm Justin Brown, the founder of Ideapod. I've overseen the evolution of Ideapod from a social network for ideas into a publishing and education platform with millions of monthly readers and multiple products helping people to think critically, see issues clearly and engage with the world responsibly.

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