Study examines the market potential for online courses in Germany and the US

Date: September 21, 2015
Responsible for the study: Dr. Sandra Boehrs, Prof. Dr. Andreas Kraemer

Online courses as part of e-learning with great potential for growth in B2C and B2B segments

Study shows great potential for improvement of online courses in terms of meeting customer demands. Customer expectations are complex; innovative concepts for online courses are well received.

Within the rapidly growing e-learning market, online courses play an important role. On the one hand Massive Open Online Courses (MOOC; usually free or associated with low costs) and on the other hand commercially available courses are both relevant. Uncertain are the prospects for future growth, the expectations of potential users in regards to the structure and scope of online courses, and how innovative online course concepts are assessed as an alternative to conventional formats. As part of an international study, simpleshow has been examining these questions.

“Both in the US as well as in Germany, e-learning methods and online courses have infused broad sections of the population. They are not limited to academic education,” says Dr. Sandra Boehrs, the author of the study. “Alarming, however, is the low level of customer satisfaction, which implies high potential for improvement.”

The results of the study at a glance:

The US comes in slightly ahead of Germany in regards to the use of e-learning and online courses
While in the United States 45% of the population already has experience with e-learning, the number in Germany is 39%. The share of users taking online courses in such environments as Youtube, online trainings and learning apps is at 33% (Germany) and 38% (US). As expected, the use of e-learning strongly correlates with age: In Germany, in particular, the usage by seniors is low (19%). The market is highly fragmented in several respects. The range of topics is very diverse, and the duration of online courses varies widely. Around one fifth of respondents have already spent money on online courses. One third of users say they did not complete one or more courses, the primary reason being the length of the course, as well as an inappropriate approach to teaching. Against the backdrop of a rapidly growing number of users, the level of customer satisfaction is rather low, particularly in the United States. Here, more than 30% of users of online courses specify that they are (very) dissatisfied with their last course.

Broadly diversified customer expectations – certificates and short course duration are success factors
Concerning user expectations, the US and Germany show no major differences. In regard to decision criteria for taking the course, the awarding of certificates is the most important, from the customer’s perspective. At least for a sub-segment of up to 20% the desire for short courses, which impart compressed knowledge and provide a general overview, represents the primary requirement. There are significant differences between the US and Germany regarding the main topics they desire to study. While foreign languages represent the main subject area in Germany (46% of responses), this is less important in the US (27%). Although the massive expansion in the supply of free online courses might suggest, that the majority of users expect a “training for free” model, the study reveals a different picture. Provided that the core requirements for an online course are met (e.g. provision of information in compressed form, interesting topics, actionable benefits are obvious to the participants, etc.), 70% of respondents in Germany and the US, indicate a willingness to pay for a corresponding offer (in the B2B segment, at 96%, this percentage is very high).

Positive Rating of Innovative Online Course Concepts
Within the scope of a concept test, a new format for an online course was introduced, which on the one hand is relatively short with a length of approximately 30 minutes, and on the other hand includes a strong variety of different design elements (explanatory videos, lectures, text, etc.). The explanatory video presented within, is classified as (very) interesting by one in two respondents in the US and Germany. Particularly positive is the assessment of the subset of respondents, who have already planned for the use of online courses in the future. Approximately one third of the interviewees show a very high usage intention for the presented online course concept.

Background of the Study: The examination “International Study On The Market Of Online Courses And It’s Future Potential” is a study to identify and assess trends in online courses. It was carried out in July 2015, n = 1,176 respondents, and considers in a representative way Germany and the USA for the B2C segment, and in addition a B2B segment. The complete results of the study can be accessed online at An article about the study will also be published in the “Journal of Education and Training Studies”. It is already available online at

Press Contact:
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Susanne Schmidt, International Marketing & PR
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