Classroom vs LMS: the battle for the future of education


E-learning is taking the world of education by storm, with the industry growing stronger every year. But will it replace brick-and-mortar education? Read on to find out…

As LMS vendors we’ve witnessed the huge growth of the e-learning industry first hand. It grew from its humble beginnings in the eighties and the nineties to a multi-billion dollar business.

But to answer whether e-learning can (or will) replace brick-and-mortar education we have to dig a little deeper than revenue and profit numbers. Is there an end in sight for e-learning’s growth? Is it a fad that will run its cycle in a few years? Will it replace traditional education? Here’s our attempt at answering those questions:

1) Is e-learning a fad?

This is the easiest question to tackle, as the answer is univocally “no”. E-learning serves a real and core need in modern societies and enterprises, and as such, it’s here to stay.

2) Will e-learning’s growth continue indefinitely?

It’s easy to naively extrapolate growth based on past performance. And it’s something that people, including analysts and business pundits who should know better, have done time and again (for example during the first dot-com bubble). The sad truth, however, is that nothing can continue expanding forever, and that exponential growth will sooner or later stop or flatline.

That said, we’re quite far off from this happening for the e-learning market, as it still has plenty of room to grow. The worldwide numbers of e-learning spending have gone up from $35 billion in 2011 to a projected $100 billion in 2015, but the market is nowhere near saturated.

3) What will happen if/when e-learning’s growth stops?

When we reach the state that the e-learning industry stops growing, it won’t mean that e-learning will be stagnating. It would just mean that the industry would have moved from the “wild west” days to a mature state.

Unlike a fad or a “gold rush” type scenario, were the end of growth kills a market entirely (e.g. the “internet portal” fad of the late nineties), in the case of e-learning what would be left would be a stable multi-billion dollar industry. There would even be opportunities for new startups and innovations to take over established players — the only thing that will be missing would be the record year over year industry growth we see now.

Think of the computing industry during the eighties and the nineties, before everybody and his cat got a PC. The early years might have seen bigger rate of revenue growth (which makes for impressive headlines and great investment opportunities) but the stable market that emerged is bigger than the old computing industry ever was.

4) Did e-learning hurt brick-and-mortar education?

As of now, not so much. The tremendous growth in e-learning has not, for the most part, been at the expense of traditional brick-and-mortar education.

A large part of the e-learning industry is run as a side-business by brick-and-mortar educational establishments, including some of the most prestigious ones in their area, like MIT, Stanford and Berklee (the famous music school, not the almost synonymous university of Berkeley).

Other niches of brick and mortar education have been hurt more. The certification business for example has largely moved to e-learning solutions, enabling it to offer its courses at low cost to a worldwide market, and to easily adapt to the changes in curriculum that inevitably come with each new product version.

That’s not to say that things will continue in the same way. If we are allowed to make a guess, we see e-learning overtaking large parts of traditional education in the next 10 years.

5) Will e-learning replace brick-and-mortar education?

If one asks whether e-learning will completely replace brick-and-mortar education, the answer is no. There will always be room for traditional classroom based education, because it offers things that e-learning cannot.

Part of the role of the traditional school, for example, is to assist in the kids’ socialization process (help them adjust to living, working and cooperating with other people), something for which psychical presence is essential.

Other fields of study also necessitate physical presence (anything from sport schools to scuba diving and dance classes). This can be partially overcomed with advanced e-learning technologies incorporating augmented and virtual reality, but we’re not there yet, and even the most advanced technologies would never totally replace student to teacher and student to student interaction.

Perhaps a more interesting question is whether e-learning will effectively replace brick-and-mortar learning.

In other words, even if traditional learning will always be around, will e-learning replace it as the core learning paradigm?

We believe yes. Kids, starting from an early age, will be accustomed to hybrid learning scenarios, and would be far more likely to opt for e-learning in their higher and supplementary education.

The squeezing of the middle class and the high toll of student loans will make brick-and-mortar higher education relegated to the more affluent upper-middle class kids (kind of like it was back in the early 20th century), who will be able to pursue largely academic interests (philosophy, history, social sciences, arts, abstract math, etc).

For more career-oriented degrees and vocational training, e-learning will be the new norm, especially in hybrid forms combining an e-learning core with infrequent classroom based interaction. This might take 5 or 10 years to be achieved, but we’re definitely getting there. The lower cost of e-learning will be the main driving factor.

(There’s also continuous education, for which e-learning is especially fitting, as people have to be able to pursue it alongside their everyday job and family responsibilities, and which will play an ever increasing role in the future)

This rise of e-learning to the top of the learning industry will coincide with regulations getting more demanding for e-learning establishments. And as with traditional education a hierarchy of e-learning schools will emerge based on their perceived quality, student employability and so on.

To sum up, brick-and-mortar learning will stay with us, but it will not be what it used to be anymore. E-learning will effectively replace it as the dominant educational setting of the future. Until then, hang on tight, and read our blog.

Check our video for an overview!

  • Becky Kinney

    Well said. The remaining question is, what will we (as a society) do with all the empty dorm rooms, classrooms and laboratories once the migration is complete? My institution has been on a massive building binge for the past two decades. We are in an arms race with every other institution in the country, trying to attract applicants by wowing their parents during the campus tour, but who are we kidding? When the middle class stops spending obscene amounts on higher education, the question won’t be how to compete for the affluent students, it will be what else to do with our brick and mortar resources.

  • E-learning is actually acquiring the world regarding education and learning simply by surprise, with all the business growing tougher yearly. Nevertheless can it change brick-and-mortar education and learning?.

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  • Hi,

    I started as intern in my company, a web design agency, without any knowledge of this field. I learned a lot of my knowledge in this field thanks to e-learning. Being just graduated from a bricks-and-mortar university, I still highly value this kind of education.
    I think that both education are serving different type of customers: If I want an in-depth knowledge and full time courses, I will choose the brick-and-mortar diploma. But if I want to stay flexible (because I’m working), have less time and just want specific knowledge on a topic, I will attend online courses. Before online courses, working people had only the option of part-time courses which doesn’t fit to anyone. If you have to travel for your job, you had simply no option available.
    To conclude, I think that, instead of replacing the brick-and-mortars courses, online courses create a new market to fulfill some specific needs. So both type of courses will still exist in the future.

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  • anisha malviya

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