10 Predictions for the Online Course Industry in 2021

sales Jul 23, 2020

Looking to sell online courses? There may never be a better time. Here's why, including 10- predictions for the e-learning industry in 2021...

E-learning presents a lucrative option for passive income and a work-from-home opportunity highly desirable in this day and age. With the advent of the novel coronavirus pandemic, the shift towards online learning in all forms of education and industries is taking off.

Everyone from college students to office workers is now at home as much as possible. This presents new opportunities for those in the e-learning industry. 

With in-person training and even post-secondary education largely making the shift to digital environments, the potential to increase your passive income and grow your return on investment (ROI) as a digital educator is immense. In short, e-learning is a great place to be right now.

Whether you are using e-learning course sales and operations as your primary source of income or you're a professional seeking to be upwardly-mobile from the benefit of e-learning income, understanding the direction of the industry will help you build a financially independent future.

Here, you will find 10 predictions for the e-learning industry, and how you can maximize on these up-and-coming trends.

1. A Massive Shift to Mobile Learning

The 2020 pandemic has taught us much about the kind of work and learning that is possible from home. While this shift has brought challenges to millions around the world, it also offers opportunities for anyone creating digital learning content.

Suddenly, even forms of education previously dominated by face-to-face (F2F) instruction are turning to a digital environment. Universities look to provide at least some level of online functionality to every course as they seek to protect student health and safety. This trend is unlikely to disappear anytime soon, as perhaps the largest barrier to broader integration of digital learning experiences was the continued success of F2F education.

Now, the heightened importance of remote learning for any kind of student has the potential to be either a gift or a challenge to the average online educator looking to make a passive income and move beyond a living wage through their courses.

On the one hand, the need for digital learning tools is greater than ever, which means more customers will be looking for your content.

On the other hand, as post-secondary educators move online and become more comfortable with digital tools, you may face more competition than ever before.

2. Explosions in Innovative and Accessible Platforms

Predictions before the 2020 pandemic expected the online industry to be worth $325 billion by 2025. Now, that number is likely even higher as the mass-shift to online learning begins. With this kind of money in the industry comes investments into all kinds of innovative platforms for creating and selling your courses online.

In a veritable and highly competitive marketplace of content, the accessibility of mobile learning will stretch beyond the limits of Khan Academy, Udemy, or Lynda. This means a broader reach into mobile applications and multimedia content that accommodate users wherever they are.

With students from all walks of life — as well as professors and educators who never wished to use an online platform — now relying on remote learning content, digital educators who can meet these students and teachers where they are at with supplemental learning can be highly successful and generate substantial passive income.

3. Digitization of Instructor-Led Training

Fully instructor-led training (ILT) may be a thing of the past. As employers, universities, and individuals looking to continue or broaden their education seek tools that can accommodate them where they are at, the focus shifts to online learning tools. This is great for educators selling their products through online marketing and instructional platforms.

Many instructors now forced to use digital technology find themselves in a position of needing the online tools to supplement the education that would have formerly been F2F. Here is where you as a digital educator truly stand to make a profit. 

Leverage how you can help educate for a social-distanced world by thinking about the following: 

  • Market supplemental material — Maybe consumers aren’t looking for an entire course, resources they can use for helping and inspiring themselves or their students. Clarify and sell the features your course has to offer.
  • Focus on accessibility strategies — Modern students juggle a variety of obligations, just as you do. Build accessibility in your courses in the form of audio, video, and microlearning components to give users flexibility.
  • Make learning support tools easy to navigate — Challenges faced by online students often include managing a tricky Learning Management System (LMS) to find the resources they are looking for. Keep your own workflow navigable to make useful features easy to find.

4. Broader Access to Support Tools

With more users than ever gravitating towards online learning platforms, even prestigious universities like Stanford and Harvard are making their courses open to a broader public online.

While the broadening of the market makes for more significant competition, it also provides an increase in the support tools digital educators have access to in creating and marketing their online courses.

There may never have been a better time to get started with creating your first course. Increased demand for online learning tools means more tools available to content creators. Already, a host of essential tools exist to help you market and sell a successful course, but it will be worthwhile to keep a pulse on the new and improving methods of creating, designing, and selling a course to today’s broad digital learning market.

5. Increase in Self-Led Learning Focus

A strength of online learning is its ability to allow self-paced, or asynchronous, learning in a way that helps cultivate knowledge and understanding in students. In a high-stress, highly digital environment, the focus will tilt further towards self-led learning that doesn’t rely as much on physical instructors and F2F learning.

This is a perfect opportunity for those in digital learning for augmented income business. Here’s what you should be focusing on:

Microlearning

Microlearning is an effective, quick learning strategy that often utilizes multimedia like videos, games, and interactive content. This is content that generally takes users anywhere from 2-13 minutes and clearly focuses on need-to-know items.

This learning strategy is highly utilized by companies like Coca Cola, who have designed apps and games to provide microlearning opportunities to employees. Since your students will have a lot competing for their attention, you need to make microlearning focus on the future. You can even use microlearning for team building exercises by creating fast, short games teams can play online with answers focused on each other.

Curated content

You want to give your students and customers tools and resources to further their trust and success with your course. Often, this comes in the form of gathering and curating content and resources that can supplement your own material.

By directing students to sources they can trust for additional learning you are making your platform an invaluable hub of knowledge that you would not be able to generate with your own busy schedule. Content curation, including content generated by users, is a trend of e-learning that could benefit you going forward.

Asynchronous learning

Asynchronous learning, or learning that happens on a student’s own time, is the most beneficial feature online learning offers students. The reason you are able to sell your courses is the ability of students to manage their learning on their own time and of their own volition.

Asynchronous learning offers:

  • Affordability
  • Flexibility
  • Self-pacing

These are the elements your users will appreciate, aspects of digital learning that will continue to be of high importance in a digital world.

6. Increase in Importance of Interactive Media

As education in all its forms continues to hybridize, success in microlearning and digital course strategies rely on effective, immersive multimedia content. The importance of these tools will only increase as digital learning grows more prevalent.

Here’s where you should be exploring with learning content:

AR and VR

Augmented and virtual reality (AR and VR) are gaining in usefulness and popularity. In a world in which in-person experiences may not be on the table, this tech can provide a life-like learning experience through a headset that either overlays reality (AR) or creates an entirely virtual one (VR).

Consider, where you can, how you might be able to integrate an immersive AR or VR experience. Even exploring 360-degree photos, which can sometimes be taken with a smartphone, might be useful in future course content, helping students visualize a concept digitally.

Interactive Video

Accountability and reinforcement are essential to learning. Interactive video content can provide that accountability by structuring learning through participation with the video content.

Consider ways you can integrate interactive media into video content — whether it be as simple as a brief multiple choice question or an interactive graphic that a user can click, drag, and engage with. The future of digital learning is all about multimedia that can capture attention and improve retention of information. Interactive video content may help you get there.

7. Use of Artificial Intelligence Tools

The use of artificial intelligence (AI) is already emerging in education. For example, Content Technologies Inc. develops an AI tool that can generate instructional design content to fit the needs of every stage of education, claiming it can do so in less time than a staff of thousands.

Tools like these may be the future of course design. With AI to help you produce content in a timely fashion, you can generate more in-depth courses with less work, and further your ability to generate passive income.

On the marketing side, AI tools can be useful in data analysis. 

Who are your customers? When are they buying? What are they interested in? AI can scan vast amounts of data to generate recommendations for your next topic or course, helping you build your revenue.

8. Heightened Focus on Analytics and Insights

Already, understanding the marketing aspects of your courses is essential to keeping sales up. For a digital marketing strategy relevant to your e-learning business, you need to focus on the social media and search engine analytics and insights that provide you with the kind of data needed to build an interested student base.

Search with Google’s Keyword tools. Explore insights on Facebook and Instagram if you are using those platforms to advertise. Digital education is becoming more and more competitive as demand increases, and understanding and building your audience will be key to helping you grow your passive income.

9. Greater Need for Learner Experience Platforms

A learner experience platform (LXP) is a portal for digital learning content. It can be a social and educational environment in which users share content and understanding, and it's a great way to encourage interaction and a user community for your content.

Unlike an LMS, an LXP is an open platform. Users can curate content to assist in the learning experience and share knowledge within a digital community. LXPs are trending for their ability to cohesively integrate and accumulate learning in an open way. 

For your content, an LXP might be just what you’re looking for.

10. Heightened Importance of the Digital Educator

Across the board, the importance of all digital educators is trending upwards. Job growth for instructional designers for an online platform is expected to grow at a consistent 11% — after a pandemic and the massive shift to online learning, the need and importance of course designers may begin to rise more sharply.

In every industry, the need for a consistent focus on education of both employees and customers has led to the increase in roles like chief learning officers, as all growth depends upon consistent learning and experimentation, regardless of industry.

The need for effective online learning has never been greater, and digital course creators can take this opportunity to build their income regardless of their life situation. With these predictions for the future of the e-learning industry, you can create competitive content that thrives in the face of increased competition and greater demand.

If you’re just now looking into creating and selling a digital course, there may never be a better time.


Beau Peters is a creative professional with a lifetime of experience in service and care. As a manager, he's learned a slew of tricks of the trade that he enjoys sharing with others who have the same passion and dedication that he brings to his work.

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