The rise of Online Distance Learning


By Aimee Kleinman & Tim Landucci

Online learning has grown so much over the last decade, but what is its full potential? Especially after so many universities have pivoted on-campus delivery online in response to Covid-19.

The global online education market is forecast to reach a total market size of $319.167bn in 2025, increasing from $187.877bn in 2019, with the majority of this growth driven by North America. And there’s every likelihood this is now a conservative estimate as there is so much more online learning available and more people are open to studying in this way.

Until now, the value of the UK online learning market was not clear. With the strong international appeal of UK Higher Education, understanding the real value of online learning and its potential is challenging. There’s also very little published research on the Online Distance Learning market. So, we have created an extensive report covering every aspect of Online Distance Learning.

In our research, we’ve focused on the behaviours, experiences, and the journey of online learning students – in particular, to shine a light on opportunities and areas for development. We surveyed more than 3500 current and potential online students and using the marketing mix 7Ps framework in our report, we identified some key findings. These included:


Two main factors inspire students to study – improving their career prospects and an interest in the subject area. When it comes to considering where to learn, there are substantial differences between the consideration set and the institution chosen.


There is a strong connection between price and perceived quality, the higher the fees, the higher the perceived quality. This drives some price differentiation between providers, with premium prices linked to prestige and provider reputation. However, higher course fees usually mean higher expectations.


When it comes to online learning, location still matters. Approximately half of online learners value the physical location of providers – taking reassurance in being able to visit (if needed), meet tutors and use resources and facilities.


Online learners are using a search engine to find their courses and education providers, with Google, provider websites and social channels all being first points of awareness.


For most students, the course leader or tutor’s reputation is not a significant factor in their decision of where to study. Exec Ed students are the exception to this. They are likely to be more exposed to business academia, so the importance of who is leading or contributing to courses will be more valuable.


Communication throughout the onboarding process could be improved in particular, with greater personalisation and relevance. Trusted and authentic content created by advocates, supporters and alumni has the potential to deliver change here.

Physical Evidence

Overall, most online learners have positive experiences with the platform used for their courses. But students choosing programmes with higher fees, like Masters and MBA’s tend to be less satisfied.

And that’s just the start of our findings. Our report uncovers valuable insight to help you understand what’s important to online learning students and where opportunities exist.

If you’d like to read the white paper, or purchase the full report, contact us here.