Consumer Learning: What is it?

Barry Kelly
Apr 18, 2014 4:27:00 PM

Consumer learning is the pursuit of lifelong learning by individuals (read: your customers) who want to further their knowledge in areas of personal interest and are learning on their own accord. That means hobbies, nutrition and fitness, sports, fine arts, crafts, career development, and personal improvement. It’s an established channel, with off-the-charts growth, and a deep-chasm profit center that brands are embracing for customer value-add, brand validity and social vitality.

The biggest difference between consumer learning and traditional e-learning is that, as with any other consumer purchase, quality and presentation are of utmost importance. The days of grabbing any old e-learning system off-the-shelf and adding some stock photography are long gone. Your customers want a multimedia, mobile-accessible, high-quality experience as they learn, and they want it anytime, anywhere.


Whether you have been thinking about creating online courses or are just at the discovery stages, what you will read here on the Thought Industries blog will provide you with insights, research and tips to help you navigate this exciting new market.


By the Numbers

Let’s take a closer look at the well-established e-learning industry and talk about what it can do for your business.

The number of consumers buying online courses from non-academic institutions has grown by over 300% in the last 2 years. Many companies, brands, publishers and bloggers–like Blue Nile, Wistia, and Time Management Ninja --are generating new profit centers for their businesses by delivering online learning products. This market segment is set for a steep growth trajectory in the coming years:

  • The global e-learning market is projected to reach $107.3 billion by the end of 2015
  • The self-paced learning segment of that market will reach $24.5 billion in the same time frame, according to the Ambient Insight Report
  • In 2013 alone, 7.1 million students took online courses in the U.S.
  • Many individuals have either taken online courses from a college or university, or have been required to take a web-based course by their employer
  • Consumer learning makes up a slice of this overall picture today but is growing at an aggressive pace. Stay tuned for more data on this market.

Best Case Scenarios

Take Craftsy (, for example. Craftsy has sold 2 million online courses to consumers passionate about subjects such as knitting, cake decorating and cooking. There are no qualifications or exams, just well-constructed, beautifully produced courses with lots of peer-to-peer interactions and top-notch instruction from some of the industry’s best.


The Breakdown for Your Business

At this point, three main business models have emerged in the consumer learning segment from high-quality online marketplaces to niche verticals. Let’s take a quick look:

  1. The Marketplaces
  2. The Verticals
  3. Direct-to-Consumer Platforms

1. The Marketplace: The marketplace is comprised of branded web destination sites that aggregate experts and content creators from all walks of life or business, and offer a catalog of online courses for sale and for free. These are designed to be one-stop destinations for a wide range of learning needs and offer a very unique option to those who want to release consumer learning courses to a large built-in community of learners.


2. The Verticals: Verticals are niche online destination sites that focus on a particular content segment. They will have many courses in many subcategories. Examples include cooking, decorating, and crafting. One benefit of verticals is that they foster a tight-knit community of learners who are passionate about one subject area. They also attract well-recognized teaching talent.


3. Direct-to-Consumer Platforms: In this segment brands, businesses, publishers and bloggers are delivering learning directly to their customer or prospect base. Some are using homegrown solutions to deliver learning, while others are using off-the-shelf platforms to author and present content. One of the major benefits of this approach is the ability to own the learning relationship with your customers and prospects and keep them on your domain.


Whatever the approach, consumer learning promises to expand into an exciting segment in e-learning. It’s time to explore the benefits of an educated customer base and discover how it can contribute to your business growth.


Stay tuned! We have a lot to cover.



About Global Industry Analysts, Inc. Press Release, Sept 10th, 2010

Ambient Insight Comprehensive Report
The US Market for Self-paced eLearning Products and Services: 2010-2015 Forecast and Analysis
Published: January 2011

2013 Survey of Online Learning Report
The Sloan Consortium

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