State of the Nation: Online Learning (2017)

Executive education is not exempt from the digital push. What is the state of the online learning industry in 2017?

A wide field 

As in most information industries, openness marked the initial production and distribution of e-learning and online education courses in general.

As the industry matured, the rise of technical standards as well as the search of reliable, quality content, led to a clustering in offerings. Still, institutions interested in making use of modern learning methods or individuals searching for specific courses need to invest time in evaluating the many different offerings.

A useful ressource for this evaluation is Class Central, a webpage specialized in tracking the online learning industry. It maintains a list of providers, both commercial as well as institutional, like universities and faculties from around the globe. Even though the list numbers more than a hundred different providers, the vast majority of content is centered around a few big players. Class central also provides a yearly MOOC report.

Some of the more important ones are CourseraUdacity and eDx. Working in partnership with leading universities (e.g. Havard, Stanford, etc.), these providers offer a sizeable quantity of content. Originally using a freemium or pay-for-diplom models, online course providers have moved to a licence or monthly fee. A few other names exist, which provide tailored solutions, like opensesame. Still paymodels are a matter of intense discussion.

Course Quality and Hidden Gems
Almost all platforms enable users to evaluate and rate courses. Usefulness, content and video/sound quality are the main aspects of these evaluations.

It is worth it to read both good as well as critical ratings before starting a course, as reviews can be quite revealing.

Sometimes courses with 5 stars can still be of mediocre quality compared to more unknown courses and user comments help discover those hidden gems.

The vast majority of courses follows a classic videos+quiz style. This is true of both institutional (universities, faculties) as well as professional e-learning providers (authoring agencies). Interactive modules are costly and their design complex, which leads to these kinds of components being less common. More professional courses add a good amount of downloadable content to their lessons, these include lecture slides, exercises, tables, graphics or do-it-yourself code for mathematics/finance based courses.


The discussion over the success or failure of online learning has been going in waves. As with many trends, it started being described as a new revolution in education, but the increased reach didn’t pair up with a similar successful attendancy. Still online learning, be it in the form of MOOCs, blended learning or other similar methods is becoming an stablished trend in primary and secundary education and setting a strong footprint in higher and executive education (though the term digital learning is used quite as catchall concept).


Picture: Istockphotos

About the author
Julio Prina supports the Executive School at the University of St. Gallen in all themes digital, be it Blockchains, Artificial Intelligence or E-Learning.