These 3 charts show how online learning is growing worldwide

  • People are increasingly accessing online courses that help them navigate in today’s ever-changing job market.
  • Online learning platform Coursera saw 20 million new student registrations in 2021.
  • The highest rate of new online learners came from emerging markets.
  • Online learning is an important tool that is helping to close the growing global skills gap.

The number of students accessing its online courses is now exceeding pre-pandemic levels, reports a leading global online learning platform.

Following the shift to teleworking caused by COVID-19, people are increasingly looking to digital learning to develop the skills they need to navigate in today’s ever-evolving workplace.


Online learning platform Coursera released its 2021 Impact Report showing that more than 20 million new learners signed up for courses over the course of the year — an overall growth in the three years leading up to the pandemic.

The surge continues an upward trend that took place before the pandemic but has since gained momentum.

The uptrend in online learning

A chart showing the growth of online learning.

More than 20 million new learners registered for courses in 2021.

Image: Coursera

In 2016, 21 million students enrolled in Coursera’s online courses, a number that has grown by around 7 million annually over the next two years. But the shift to teleworking during the pandemic triggered a triple increase in new registrations, taking the number to 71 million in 2020 and 92 million in 2021.

Course enrollments for online learning followed a similar pattern, with huge spikes overshadowing pre-pandemic gains. Enrollment more than doubled in 2020, rising 32% the following year to a peak of 189 million.

These increases reflect growing global adoption of online instruction, including increases in remote learners enrolled in higher education courses and those from vulnerable or remote communities.

Where are most online learners based?

Regionally, Asia Pacific saw the largest student presence on the learning platform with 28 million new online learners enrolled in 68 million courses, followed by North America, Europe and Latin America.

In comparison, only 3 million online learners came from Africa and took 5 million courses. However, Africa saw the highest growth in both student enrollments (up 43%) and course enrollments (up 50%).

10 flags show countries with the most online learners.

Most distance learners on Coursea’s learning platform came from the US and India.

Image: Coursera

At the country level, the US led the rankings with more than 17 million people enrolled in online learning, followed by India with 13.6 million. A sizable gap separated these two nations from Mexico at almost 5 million, with Brazil and China completing the top five list.

10 flags show the countries with the greatest growth in online learners.

Emerging markets are seeing the fastest growth rate in online learning.

Image: Coursera

However, the highest growth rate of new learners came from emerging markets, led by Paraguay with a 98% growth to a total of 110,000 learners.

Lebanon saw a 97% growth with a total of 158,000 learners. Although the Philippines saw learner growth of 85%, the Southeast Asian nation recorded a total of 1.3 million learners.

Other emerging countries with high student numbers that saw more than 50% growth in 2021 are Indonesia, Kenya, Vietnam and Kazakhstan.

retraining for the future

Access to quality online learning is an important step in helping people future-proof their skills and seek new opportunities for growth and development.

The pandemic has accelerated an already rapidly changing world, where technologies like AI and automation continue to disrupt labor markets and bring about structural changes. This creates an uncertain future for many.

Today’s pace of technological change is expected to continue or accelerate in some areas, the forum’s The Future of Jobs Report 2020 predicts. Cloud computing, big data and e-commerce are likely to remain areas of focus for large companies, alongside advances in digital encryption, non-humanoid robots and AI.


For many, the future of work is already here. And while the total number of jobs lost by the tech revolution will be surpassed by the “jobs of tomorrow” it creates, the immediate impact could displace many workers, leaving them without the skills needed to perform new and more technical tasks required are.

But disruption also creates new opportunities that require new skills. And the increased focus on reskilling among both companies and individuals offers a solution. On average, 66% of employers surveyed for the report expect to recoup their investment within a year from upskilling and reskilling employees.

Employers’ provision of online learning opportunities for employees has quintupled, the number of people seeking online learning opportunities on their own has quadrupled, and online learning opportunities created by government programs have increased ninefold.

In this environment, the World Economic Forum’s Reskilling Revolution initiative aims to provide better education, employability and employment opportunities for one billion people by 2030.

COVID-19 has exposed digital injustices around the world and deepened the digital divide. Most of the world lives in areas covered by a mobile broadband network, but more than a third (2.9 billion people) are still offline. Cost, not coverage, is the barrier to connectivity.

On the Davos Agenda 2021, the World Economic Forum launched the EDISON Alliance, the first cross-industry alliance to accelerate digital inclusion and connect critical economic sectors.

Through the 1 Billion Lives Challenge, the EDISON Alliance aims to improve the lives of 1 billion people worldwide by 2025 through affordable and accessible digital solutions in healthcare, financial services and education.

Read more about the work of the EDISON Alliance in our Impact Story.

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