For years prior to COVID-19, educators warned that digital learning was the way of the future - that the classroom would move online. Thanks to the pandemic, that future is now. Companies like Udemy, Coursera, Kahoot and others have exploded in popularity, valuation and user metrics as classrooms move online and as workers worldwide, left with extra time on their hands due to work-from-home or unemployment, try to bolster their resumes and skill sets. Careers are collapsing. Industries are imploding. If ever there was a time to learn a new skill and make a career change, it’s now. 

But is the edtech boom built to last? These companies will certainly thrive during a pandemic, when everyone is trapped at home. But whenever life returns to normal, some of these companies may find themselves without a place to work. To preempt that possibility, they're pursuing different strategies to ride the current edtech wave towards permanent relevancy. Some will work better than others.

Udemy and Coursera, both online learning services geared towards an adult or college-aged audience, saw an unprecedented increase in users at the onset of the pandemic. Just days after statewide shutdowns began in earnest, Udemy saw its Facebook “Talking About” counts shoot up as much as 149% in early April. 

The company released a report around that time boasting its wild increases in user metrics: customers were enrolling in 425% more classes. Companies were enrolling their employees. Courses ranging from professional skills like coding to personal hobbies like ukulele were growing rapidly. Coursera grew similarly, boasting 10 million new users between March and May, according to the New York Times

But Udemy’s hype has certainly worn off. While its app ratings (not shown) continue to increase at a steady pace, people just aren't talking excitedly about the service as they were at the onset of the pandemic. In October, “Talking About” counts have dipped back down to pre-COVID levels. 

Coursera, on the other hand, is still boasting significant growth. The company reported last month that it has experienced an influx of 21 million new users since March. Its roll hasn’t slowed down.

These companies are taking two different approaches. Udemy is increasingly relying on government or corporate contracts for business. The company recently signed a deal with the United States Air Force to help educate its pilots, and its April report places special emphasis on the use of Udemy as a tool to educate company workforces. It is likely that Udemy will continue to pursue such contracts going forward.

Coursera, on the other hand, is completely locked in as a disruptor. More than just offer classes to expand skills, Coursera actually has paths towards university certification. Through partnerships with several universities like Stanford, Arizona State University and Yale, Coursera has gone all-in on disrupting the traditional certifications of education much like Google has - an appealing option when unemployment is rampant and Coursera offers a service many, many times cheaper than any college course. The company also attempts to attract new customers by releasing trove after trove of free courses throughout the pandemic.

From a consumer perspective, Udemy is just a productive time-killer while Coursera positions itself as an alternative to traditional education. It’s yet to be seen how successfully things like Google’s and Coursera’s certifications will disrupt the traditional college ecosystem in the United States, but it certainly has a better chance of remaining prescient longer than its competitor.

Kahoot, an education app for children, is a fascinating success story in an entirely different way. The app, which gamifies education for students and allows teachers to build lesson plans, started out as an in-classroom tool. Kahoot did end up bolstering its at-home offerings when the pandemic began, but its experienced similar success since classrooms reopened this fall.

Kahoot’s App Store ratings saw a significant increase of 28% in the spring as lockdowns took hold, but its trajectory has trended towards an upward curve yet again since mid-August when many schools started reopening in the United States. By serving a dual purpose of allowing kids to learn at home and in the classroom in engaging ways, Kahoot is successfully fighting a war on two fronts and will likely succeed even after the pandemic is but a distant memory.

Its usefulness goes beyond being a way for parents to keep kids occupied at home, but it is making moves to be an indispensable classroom tool. This isn’t just adults talking about what kids need, either. Children love Kahoot, and their strategy recently helped them secure a $215 million investment from Softbank.

About the Data:

Thinknum tracks companies using the information they post online, jobs, social and web traffic, product sales, and app ratings, and creates data sets that measure factors like hiring, revenue, and foot traffic. Data sets may not be fully comprehensive (they only account for what is available on the web), but they can be used to gauge performance factors like staffing and sales.

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