E-learning – Is it REAL or a USD 375 billion ILLUSION with cut-throat COMPETITION

Growth of the e-learning industry

Learning is acquiring knowledge. It begins at a young age when we attend face-to-face classroom sessions at school. Sadly the coronavirus in 2020, severely affected this situation. As per the World Economic Forum 1.2 billion children belonging to 186 countries of the world were out of their school classrooms due to this global COVID-19 pandemic. The resulting lockdown in most countries gave an impetus to virtual classrooms or e-learning to connect with the children. Beyond the schools, even colleges, educational institutes, corporates, SMBs, large enterprises, governments and trainers shifted to e-learning to maintain continuity in education and training programs. As per a report by Global Market Insights, the virtual classroom in the e-learning market has surpassed USD 200 billion in 2019 and is estimated to grow at over 8% CAGR in the next 6 years to a projected value of USD 375 billion in 2026. This growth can be attributed to the internet penetration and mobile revolution worldwide which has enabled learners and content providers both to contribute. Today, the ever-increasing apps have also led to cut throat competition in online education so which flourish and which fail, one cannot tell.

What is e-learning – the concept

The Oxford Dictionary defines e-learning as ‘a system of learning that uses electronic media, typically over the internet’. The term has historically been in existence only since 1999 with the growth of internet and computers. E-learning is a structured course that is delivered to a learner electronically on a desktop, laptop, mobile, or iPad. It uses a combination of features like live or pre-recorded lecture content, video, quizzes, simulations, games, activities, and other interactive elements.

There is two kinds of e-learning – asynchronous and synchronous. Both are distinctly different in their approach to online learning –

1. Asynchronous e-learning

Asynchronous e-learning is a form of education, instruction, and learning that does not occur in the same place or at the same time. This digital and online learning experience is self-paced where the learner takes the course on his/her own time. Asynchronous e-learning programs have elements that are pre-recorded. The video lectures, the text content, and quizzes, and other teaching tools are pre-loaded and can be interacted with by the learner at any time.

2. Synchronous learning refers to real-time, online communication between the learner and the content provider and instructor. It occurs at the same time, but not in the same place or in-person. Synchronous e-learning, commonly referred to as live-online training or virtual classroom training, is instructor-led and taken at the same time as other learners over a screen space though everyone may be geographically dispersed. This training typically uses a web-conferencing or virtual classroom platform (such as Adobe Connect, Google Meet, or GoToTraining) that offers features such as chats, videos, slide, and screen sharing.

Image credits: Career Online Courses

Online courses in India

All online courses are facing major competition today. With newer entrants, online classes are no longer the forte of few educators. Here we have compiled a shortlist that is only the tip of the iceberg. These academies are better known in India and have contributed to huge online learning. They are: –


Educomp Solutions one of India’s largest education companies founded in 1994. it has taught over 30 million learners from 65,000 schools. It has 4 segments which include Higher Learning Solutions (HLS), School Learning Solutions (SLS), K-12 Schools, and Online, Supplemental and Global business (OSG).


Creators of four categories of learning Byju provides learning apps for K-12 Schools, Higher Learning Solutions (HLS), School Learning Solutions (SLS), and Online, Supplemental and Global business (OSG). In 2017, Byju’s won the World Summit Award.


Topper imparts online learning in 17 subjects for 22 Indian boards including state boards, CBSE, ICSE, and IGCSE.


Meritnation is an online portal for learning needs of students in school preparing them through training and tests for exams. It uses live video lectures and interactive recorded videos to impart the best knowledge to the students.

Khan Academy

This NGO provides free math, art, computer programming, economics, physics, chemistry, biology, medicine, finance, and history online courses for learners, teachers, and parents.


India’s largest learning platform offers courses for UPSC, IIT, JEE, NEET, SSC, Bank exams, Railway exams and Defence exams preparation.


Udemy offers thousands of courses in design, photography, personal development, marketing, machine learning, and IT&Software starting from INR 455.


Udacity teaches you to master the skills tech companies want which include programming, artificial intelligence, cloud, computing, and autonomous systems. It has 100% online, part-time and self-paced courses.

Cloud Academy

Cloud Academy’s digital training solutions build a culture of cloud with technology and guided online learning to develop and validate tech skills.


The tech skills platform offers online training in web development and IT certification.

Infosec Skills

Earlier known as SkillSet, the institute offers over 600+courses to train and validate the industry’s most in-demand cybersecurity skills.


Coursera provides courses, certificates, and degrees online from world-class universities and companies like Duke University, Imperial College London, Stanford, Penn University, IBM, and Google.


EdX a non-profit arm founded by Harvard and MIT offering mostly free interactive online courses in law, science, social science, computer science, engineering, history, public health, business, and artificial intelligence. It charges a small fee if the student wants a verified certificate.

HubSpot Academy

HubSpot Academy a worldwide leader in sales and marketing, customer service, and back office support training offers various online courses and certifications in these professional areas.


Skillshare is an American online learning community that offers courses through subscription. It offers creative learning courses in design, business, and more.

The difficulties faced in becoming e-teachers

From a classroom teacher to an online teacher, designing and delivering online classes requires additional computer skillsets and not just experimenting. Aspects like understanding whether e-learning is suited for the content; designing, writing, testing the course material for compatibility and usability online; determining user interface; and assessing and evaluating the e-learning program are few elements to be considered while shifting from classroom teaching to online teaching. A 2017 survey by ATD research in its report Next-Generation E-Learning, highlighted that 89% of teaching staff need to update or add new skills.

First time e-learners

The first question that comes to mind is, how efficiently students will learn using virtual classes. While the one-size-fits-all system is gone and customized algorithms and machine learning are helping customize learning programs for e-learners, it is only the beginning. The students need to inculcate time discipline, be focused and pay attention, and understand the importance of this method of teaching. In 2020 online learning in itself is a learning lesson for every student. An American school research that examined the results of nearly 300 students concluded, ‘Students learned less efficiently than usual in online courses, but if they have a facilitator, mentor, or someone to help with the technology while they focus their attention (called blended learning),  the students perform about as well in virtual classes, as in classrooms’. Maybe it’s time for the helicopter Moms to be on Zoom or Google.

Image credits: Technavio

Advantages of E-Learning

The advantages of online learning education without leaving home are many. Here we outline a few: –

1 Continue to learn in the pandemic

E-learning has given us the advantage to develop and enhance our skills even during a lockdown. Without physically stepping out from home one can continue to upscale one’s skills and knowledge through several courses offered online.

2.  Wide choice of courses

Online learning enables you to choose whatever you want to learn. All it takes is a Google search for an online course, and you’ll find there is a great variety of online programs and courses on what you want to study – you can always find a suitable course or even a degree or diploma program that piques your interest and helps you to learn more.

3. Take it from anywhere

With online classes no need to travel a distance to attend a school or a college. All classes and needed materials are provided via online platforms, so you can easily access them from the comfort of your home. You will not take public transport to get to campus, you won’t have to spend money on gas for your car, you won’t have to get up early to get dressed for class, and the list of conveniences goes on and on.

4. Online courses count on a resume

Today hiring managers are viewing online degrees at par with traditional degrees. Further, an online degree from a prestigious university, adds significant weight to increasing one’s job prospects. Online or offline degree, are you really ready for the job?

5. Can be less expensive

E-learning can be less expensive than traditional classroom training since it needs to produce the content just once. Asynchronous e-learning courses are a much cheaper way to provide education.

6. Highly trackable

Online education allows every assignment or project to be tracked based on a number of parameters. The detailed analytics provide the e-teacher a better understanding of how to improve the e-learners ability to grasp in a virtual class.

7. Fun learning

With latest technology, online classes have become more engaging and interactive than classrooms. Quizzes, surveys, and polls, make learning fun for everyone.

8. Self-paced learning

A self-paced system of eLearning enables students to suit their requirements. Since in this type of learning one does not require to attend physical classroom sessions, one can access the online materials at any time convenient for study.

9. Master of your own education

Not everyone may be looking for a degree. Some people join a course out of passion or to learn a skill. Education is a choice and online courses offer different subjects for different age-groups without any limitations.

10. Earn an international degree  

With distance learning or online learning, you can earn a degree from an internationally recognized university without enrolling for campus learning.

Disadvantages of e-learning

  • Not accessible to computer illiterate persons.
  • It is a passive form of learning where interaction and feedback may be limited.
  • Lack of quality assurance affects its accreditation.
  • Lacks real human real interaction and communication skills causing social isolation.
  • Needs intense self-discipline and self-management skills.
  • Preventing cheating may be difficult during tests.
  • Might be limited to certain disciplines.

The growth of Apps

In 2019, Indians spent 3.5 hours/day on their mobiles marginally lesser than their global counterparts who spend 3 hours 40 minutes per day. In the same year, they downloaded 19 billion apps becoming the second-largest app market after China who downloaded 90 billion apps.

E-learning gathered further momentum with more students accessing study material and utilizing online courseware and services during the lockdown. In 2020, the average time spent by students on mobile devices grew by over 91%; education app use in Tier II cities grew by over 73%; app use in Tier I and metro cities grew by over 99%.

According to a report by online learning platform Meritnation that analyzed the database of over 92 lakh students, few interesting numbers point out towards the growth of online education in India over the past one year –

Main findings

  • Use of education apps by students increased by 217%
  • Education apps used by students residing in Tier II Indian cities grew by over 73%

Agewise findings

  • Children from Standard 1 to 5 had to spend about 32% more time attending online classes
  • Students from Standard 6 to 8 spend 15% more time than usual on their online projects/studies.

By School Board findings

  • While there is a 32% increase in CBSE students studying online, over 43% more ICSE students have begun their online classes/studying.

(Above data credits Next Big What)

This growth has led to a lot of competition among the online education service providers which until recently was limited to only a few players.

Competition among Apps

Image credits: New Indian Express


In October 2019, Byju’s unveiled a television commercial (TVC) campaign to encourage every individual to ‘Keep Learning’. The campaign conceptualized and created by Spring Marketing Capital designed the Byju’s logo for the cricket team jerseys. The campaign film features the Indian cricket team walking onto the pitch while sharing their thoughts on what the jersey means to each of them drawing inspiration and learning from it each day.

Byju Raveendran, founder and CEO, BYJU’S, said, “As a home-grown company, it is a heartening moment for us to associate ourselves with India’s most loved sport. Being on the Indian cricket team jersey is monumental and also an opportunity to remind every Indian to call on their inner child and reignite their child-like curiosity to ‘Keep Learning’. Just as cricket inspires a billion budding dreams across India, we too, as a learning company, hope to inspire the love of learning in every child’s heart.”

Image credits: YouTube


To beat competitors, Unacademy in 2020 ran a different kind of campaign. The academy’s digital marketing eff credisorts involved conducting live sessions by prominent personalities like former diplomat Shashi Tharoor, retired IPS Officer Kiran Bedi and star couple cricketer Virat Kohli and actor Anushka Sharma. In the 40 minute live sessions, each of these personalities shared their knowledge and personal experience with 13 million learners on the Unacademy platform. This ‘Live Class’ initiative was a part of the second edition campaign of ‘Legends on Unacademy’.

In the Live Class, with Virat and Anushka, the Vice President, Marketing at Unacademy Karan Shroff, shared, “The COVID-19 pandemic has forced everyone to stay indoors, be it renowned personalities or our learners. The idea behind this initiative was to enable our learners to get motivation from the legends themselves in order for them to stay reassured and focused on their goals. The session by Virat Kohli and Anushka Sharma saw a fabulous response from our learners and we will continue to work hard to provide them with the best learning experience on Unacademy.”

Companies operating in the e-learning landscape

During the pandemic in 2020, a large number of companies too stepped forward to provide online certification programs to expand their user base. One such example is Oracle Corporation who introduced 50 hours of online training and six certification exams on Oracle Autonomous Database and Oracle Cloud Infrastructure for students, teachers, professionals, developers, and architects from March 30 to May 15, 2020.

Companies like Microsoft, Adobe Systems, SAP, Cisco Systems, Aptara, Meridian Knowledge Solutions, Citrix Education, Apollo Education Group, and Certpoint Systems too entered the online education arena.


Though e-classes helped to continue the teaching and learning activities during the Covid19 lockdown in 2020, it only provides us a glimpse of things to come. Questions like ‘should schools incorporate more virtual learning when they reopen?’ or ‘will online training gather momentum?’ are yet to be accurately answered. Maybe it is the right moment to redefine how we as humans transmit knowledge, skills, and values to the younger generations to future-proof them. Among continued competition let’s wait and watch how this USD 200 billion online education metamorphoses into an industry worth USD 375 billion.