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Course Creation

24 Online Learning Statistics Vital to Online Course Creators

You’re a teacher at heart, a mentor perhaps, a coach or a consultant.

You shine when you’re sharing your expertise and helping others. And you know that if you want to reach more people, it’s time to take your message and your course online.

(check out my free guide on creating an online course)

But you have doubts about whether it’s right for you.

Man with camera taking pictureCould you still have the same impact?

The online learning statistics you found in your research didn’t clarify much. You found them confusing, to say the least, and they even seem to contradict each other sometimes.

Well, you’re in the right place.

I’ll take you through the numbers and give you the latest insights on online learning and show you how to make it even more engaging than in-person training.

What Do Online Learning Statistics Say About Total Market Size?

E-Learning on laptop

Sifting through the market size and growth statistics is challenging. The number of different terms and concepts alone is enough to make your head spin.

Online learning, e-learning, online e-learning, mobile e-learning, virtual classrooms, digital learning, and learning management systems (LMSs), to name a few.

So, to simplify things, let’s take a look at the overall picture.

The Online Learning Market in Numbers

group chat online on laptop

In 2019, the global online learning industry was worth between 171 and 200 billion USD1,2,3, depending on who you talked to.

Research firms put the growth rate between 8 and 11% per year and projected the industry will be worth between 319 and 375 billion USD by 2025 or 20261,2,3 quickly making this a billion-dollar-a-day market — and all these numbers are from before the COVID-19 pandemic hit.

When you dig further, you’ll see that Big Business is a raving fan of online learning — 90%4 of companies have embraced it for employee training and a large majority (72%3) believe it gives them a competitive edge.

But they’re not the only ones. Far from it.

As more and more people gain experience with digital and online learning, it’s quickly become mainstream. Everyone from teachers, coaches, consultants, and even doctors have brought courses online.

And so can you.

What’s Your Takeaway From This?

working with laptop, notes, and food on the bedRegardless of your topic and audience, online learning presents a huge opportunity for course creators and course takers alike — for at least another 5 years.

You already know, of course, that online courses have massive benefits for you as a course creator — such as reaching more people, leveraging your time, and being pandemic-proof.

But did you know they also have huge benefits for course takers?

What Are the Advantages of Online Learning?

Online courses usually cost less than face-to-face studies.

Because you don’t need to travel to take an online course, elearning takes as much as 40-60%3 less time, according to Brandon Hall Research Group.

And the quality of learning isn’t affected. In many cases, it may even be better than classroom learning.

A study by the Research Institute of America shows that online and e-learning can improve retention rates by as much as 25-60%5 compared to traditional classroom learning, which flatlines at just 8 to 10%5 retention.

With online learning, you can pick a course that’s right for you — right when you need it. Sure, some start at specific dates and have a schedule to follow, but even then you’re free to do the work when it suits you within that schedule. For example, most online courses have a program with set lessons and assignments each week, but you’re free to do the work on your schedule. 

And online learning is environmentally friendly.

Britain’s Open University found that online learning uses 90%6 less energy and spits out 85%6 less carbon-dioxide than classroom learning. Not surprising, considering you don’t need to travel to take an online course.

That said, it’s not all smooth sailing.

What Do You Think Is the Biggest Challenge to Online Learning’s Reputation?

Online learning enjoys tremendous popularity with corporations, students, employees and course creators alike. The adoption rate by corporations is a testament to that, plus 95%7 of employees prefer e-learning over traditional courses. And many college and university students have opted for taking classes online instead of learning in person.

But there’s one hiccup. And it’s a major one.

frustrated girl on laptop Completion rates.

They’re pretty good when there’s an incentive like an employer requiring a completion certificate for a promotion or other perks.

But without incentives, the percentage of people finishing online courses is shockingly low. 

Free academic courses taught by top university professors on platforms like Coursera have a completion rate as low as 4%8. Overall the picture isn’t much better. Only 3 to 12%9 of people complete any online course they start.

That means up to 97% don’t reach the finish line.

And there’s more.

Up to 20%10 of people never even log in. Not once. Not a single login even after laying down as much as $1000 or more to take a course. And less than half of those taking free degree courses looked at more than a single lecture.

These poor results are not just denting online learning’s reputation, they’re also impacting the growth statistics for one part of the industry.

Online Courses Are Not All Created Equal

lady doing online communication on the computer

The online learning industry is diverse and courses sit on a range between two very distinct approaches.

At one end you have self-paced learning, where you get access to all the material at once, go through it at your own pace, and have little or no interaction with an instructor.

At the other end is facilitated learning, where you attend live but virtual classes.

In the middle you’ll find many variations. For example, a course with pre-recorded classes, live group coaching sessions and 1-on-1 mentoring on assignments through email or a private social media group.

The Part of the Online Learning Industry That Feels the Heat

While most of the industry is growing fast, revenue for the self-paced learning industry has dropped$13.1 billion11 in the last 5 years. And $5 billion12 in the US alone.

This is happening despite most people saying they prefer to go at their own pace. At least, that’s what an overwhelming number of employees (95%7) say. And employees are human, right? So it’s safe to assume it applies to everyone.

But Is It the Self-Paced Nature of These Courses that’s to Blame?

technical glitch or human error

The research firms that reported these numbers tied them to the self-paced learning industry.

But is that fair? Is it really the self-paced nature that’s to blame? Or is self-paced just one characteristic that courses from creators in that industry happen to have in common?

Could it be that these courses have more characteristics in common that are contributing to these poor completion rates?

After all, most online courses have some self-paced component, yet the industry as a whole is growing fast and more than offsetting the reported drop in revenue.

So what else can be going on for what research firms label as the self-paced learning industry?

What Are the Factors That Drive These Tiny Completion Rates?

There are many factors that could lead to someone not completing a course. Let’s look at a few of them…

1. The Motivational Roller Coaster

I bet you’re familiar with the roller coaster effect of getting pumped about learning something, then losing your enthusiasm somewhere along the way. You start and stop. You keep meaning to get back to it, but you don’t. And after a while, it feels like it’s too late and you just want to forget about it.

Research published in The Journal of Higher Education13 found that students taking online courses did slightly worse than those following the traditional in-person version. 

They showed that students’ level of self-direction was an essential factor in how well they did.

2. Feels Like School

bored girl yawning on laptop

When you pick an online course, you’re already interested in the topic. But does the material help you to stay interested? Or does it feel more like a no-fun, necessary chore? Does it remind you of school and bring back memories of long hours of boredom in class?

Unless you have extra motivation to finish — like a certificate, a promotion, a better life, the joy of a new hobby or skill, etc. — you’re likely just to drop it.

3. The ‘Thud Factor’

Do you remember getting all your books for a new school year? Their weight as you carried them upstairs to your room? The thud they made when you put them down on your desk?  And the feeling of overwhelm when it sank in how much learning you had to do that year?

Seeing the dashboard or table of contents for an online course can evoke the same overwhelm as that thud did.

It’s what’s commonly called the ‘thud factor.’ And it’s a major reason people don’t even get started despite their initial motivation and enthusiasm. They just don’t know where to begin.

4. Alone Is Just Alone

raise the trophy in the air!When you take an online course, you generally do it alone.

Not having someone to compare notes with, to ask for help when you’re stuck, or to talk shop with, is just no fun and can leave you feeling defeated and wondering how to proceed.

How to Get Your Students the Results They Came For

The best teachers, and I bet you’re one of them, create engaging experiences for their students that have them engrossed in the material and craving more.

It’s no different online.

To help your students cross the finish line, you need to engage them.

And there are lots of ways to do that.

Engaging Delivery

engaging lady on a laptop

What do you think is more engaging? Reading text or watching a video?

Video is the clear winner, right?

But beware. Kaltura found that 72%14 of employees admit to not giving course videos their full attention. But 82%14 say videos hold their attention better than traditional videos.

You may have to get a little creative, but don’t worry, there’s help at hand.

Many companies in tech have been dealing with virtual meetings for years as their teams are often spread out around the world. Check out what they’ve done to transfer ice breaker activities and facilitation techniques to an online setting.

And here at Live Your Message, we’re all about creating engaging experiences and helping you do the same. On this site, you’ll find an Ultimate Guide on creating your best virtual event ever, and a lot of other content to inspire you.

The takeaway: There’s little you can do in the real world that you can’t do virtually too and you don’t have to figure it all out by yourself.

A Page Out of the Gaming Industry’s Playbook

Playstation 5 controller

Do you remember the Pokemon Go phenomenon? Or are you a parent worried about your kids spending hours glued to their gaming devices?

The gaming industry took everything they could learn about influencing behavior from psychology and neuroscience and used it to skyrocket engagement. 

Game-based learning took what the gaming industry discovered and put it to work for education.

A whole new class of learning platforms has sprung up as a result. Some of these gamified learning systems, including our sister company’s Xperiencify online learning platform, even help you nurture your students by keeping an eye on their involvement and sending out customized, yet automated messages based on their actions and behavior. For example, to re-engage them when they haven’t logged-in for awhile.

The revenue of the gamified learning market was 2.6 billion USD in 201615, and its growth is far outstripping the already-impressive figures on online learning as a whole. The gamified market is set to reach 7.3 billion USD by 202115. That means it’s almost tripled in just five years.

Gamification holds the key to the future. Learners love it, and a whopping 80%15 say learning would be more productive if it were more game-oriented.

But don’t make the mistake of thinking that gamification only applies to kids and teenagers. Apart from the fact that many gamers are adults, as humans, we all respond to gamification because it’s designed to activate the ancient pleasure and reward centers in our brains that drives so much human achievement.

The takeaway: You want to incorporate as much gamification into your courses as you can (even if you serve “serious” or adult markets), and there’s a fast-growing industry to help you do it.

“Doceren Is Doseren” (Teaching Is Dosing)

Start, steps, trophy!

This Dutch adage says that teaching is about knowing your students and dosing (or measuring) the material you teach to what they can absorb.

But we like to think of it as teaching no more than a student needs to learn WHEN they need to know it.

This concept is known as microlearning and the stats are promising:

  • Microlearning makes learning 17%16 more effective.
  • 94%16 of learners prefer microlearning because they can better fit it in with the rest of their life and work.
  • Microlearning creates 50%16 more engagement.

The takeaway: You want to create short lessons with just one or two learning objectives and a handful of takeaways. And you want to drip-feed these to your students, releasing lessons over time, to avoid the “Thud Factor.”

Two’s Company, Three’s a Crowd — and That’s a Good Thing

online group chat on laptop

One significant benefit of in-person classes is the opportunity for connection and interaction with fellow learners.

Showing up for class and getting coaching, feedback and answers to your questions in real time. In-person classes give you accountability, support from your peers, and direct attention from the teacher.

And you can provide all that in an online course too.

Instead of being in the same room you can use live video and chat.

And you can create peer groups using team chat applications or private social media groups. These peer groups provide powerful accountability and support. And you can leverage them by answering questions there rather than through email, so everyone in the group gets to benefit.

The takeaway: You want to use everything technology has to offer to create an online education experience that mirrors an in-person one.

Are You Ready to Branch Out Online?

Marisa Murgatroyd
Marisa Murgatroyd

So, there you have it.

While the part of the learning industry that’s not actively focused on engaging their students is taking a hit, the online learning statistics show that the overall market — and especially the gamified segment — is booming and in your favor as a course creator.

You’ve heard that the quality of learning isn’t affected when you take it online and may even be more effective.

The key is engaging your students. And you’ve seen that, with a few tweaks, you can do that online too.

However, this article isn’t long enough to give you everything you need to create an engaging, experience-driven course that’s entirely geared toward getting your clients the results they came for.

That, in fact, would take an entire course! That’s why we created the Experience Product Masterclass where we walk you step-by-step through designing and launching an online course that’s even better than an in-person experience. It includes our proprietary easy-to-follow 10-part Experience Formula, designed to skyrocket student engagement up to 10-30x the industry average!

With that knowledge in your pocket you can also take full advantage of gamified online learning systems, like Xperiencify, that automate a lot of the student nurturing you’d otherwise be doing manually.

So, go on, Live Your Message and thrive online.

But before you go…

Check out my FREE Breakthrough Course Creation Webinar. During our time together, you’ll discover the Silicon Valley secret to igniting sales and building a devoted customer base!

This works even if you don’t have any sales or even make your first course yet.

Save your seat here. There are no costs, but time is very limited.


  1. Syngene Research, 2019
  2. Global Industry Analytics, Inc, 2020
  3. Brandon Hall Group, 2017
  4. 2018 Workplace Learning Report, LinkedIn, 2018
  5. Research Institute of America, 2017 – via Forbes 
  6. Corporate Digital Learning – How to “Right”, KPMG, 2015
  7. University of Pennsylvania, 2019 – via Forbes
  8. Personal conversation with SmartBlogger instructor 
  9. Worldwide self-paced e-learning market revenue from 2016 to 2021, Statista, 2016
  10. Self-paced e-learning market revenue in the United States from 2016 to 2021, Statista, 2016
  11. Performance Gaps between Online and Face-toFace Courses: Differences across Types of Students and Academic Subject Areas, 2014 – online 2016
  12. Video and Learning at Work: The State of Video in the Enterprise 2019, Kaltura, 2019
  13. 15 elearning trends and statistics to know for 2017, Elogic Learning, 2017
  14. 7 Statistics That Prove eLearning Is Super Important For Your Organisation, Elearning, 2018

Love it? Hate it? Let me know...

  1. Joseph Umidi Avatar
    Joseph Umidi

    Great article that re-enforces why you are consistently such a great leader in this industry!

    1. Marisa Murgatroyd Avatar
      Marisa Murgatroyd

      Thanks Joseph!

  2. Donna Hawkins Avatar
    Donna Hawkins

    Marisa, you and your work are a beacon of inspiration. I’ve adopted my teaching to complement the information you have so willingly and creatively offered to the world of on-line learning. This article adds even more substance to your presentations. Thanks for publishing it.

    1. Marisa Murgatroyd Avatar
      Marisa Murgatroyd

      Aww thanks Donna! So glad it’s making a difference for you… <3

  3. Elizabeth Armstrong PhD Avatar
    Elizabeth Armstrong PhD

    Thank you Marisa M for your expertise and attention to detail on relevant stats to help business owners flourish. Your work serves in many ways.

    1. Marisa Murgatroyd Avatar
      Marisa Murgatroyd

      You’re welcome Elizabeth!

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