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7 Emerging Education Trends For 2021

Over the past few years, the education world has been changing faster than ever. Thanks in large part to improving technology and new research-led learning approaches.

And in 2021, these changes are still being shaped and accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Here is a list of top trends to watch in the education sector right now. For K-20 and beyond.

1. Neuroeducation Makes Inroads

The emerging field of educational neuroscience is shedding light on what works best when it comes to learning new concepts and skills.

And many mainstream education practices simply aren’t supported by research.

For example: in-person lectures, one-size-fits-all lessons, memorization-based testing and unguided homework. These teaching methods have all been called into question lately.

While new approaches have been introduced to deal with timeless challenges like maintaining students’ attention.

Neuroeducation is a subfield in which teaching approaches are backed by the principles of neuroscience. And as you can see below, interest has shown strong long-term growth.
The number of searches for "neuroeducation" has been climbing for years.

2. Microlearning Gets Traction

It’s no secret that humans have an inherent limit to how much information they can retain from a single learning session. Especially when the subject matter is not covered again later.

But traditional education tends to overload students with long lectures… and expect them to remember everything the first time. (Or to study it on their own, which is a skill many students don't have.)

Enter: the emerging microlearning trend.

Microlearning is a form of spaced repetition learning, in which lessons are broken up into bite-sized chunks and repeated over time. This is said to help new concepts and skills sink in for the long term.

According to microlearning proponents, short, spaced bursts of learning can significantly boost retention.

That’s probably why searches for "microlearning" have increased 188% over the past 5 years.


Searches for "microlearning" have increased significantly.

3. Online Learning Gains Ground

According to Research and Markets, the online education landscape is set to become a $319 billion industry by 2025.

The three major benefits of online learning compared to offline are cost, convenience and scale.

And scale - the ability of one incredible educator to reach an unlimited number of students - has massive potential for raising the quality of education as well.

But as often happens, cost may end up being the deciding factor. It’s significantly cheaper to take an online course than enroll in a traditional four-year college.

Also, satisfaction rates for people that take online courses are high.’s Online Education Trends Report states that 94% of students who take online courses are satisfied with the experience.

One clear example of the online learning trend is the online course platform Udemy.


The Udemy homepage.

Udemy is an online learning platform geared toward professionals who want to improve their skills. It hosts thousands of courses across hundreds of different topics. And as a business, it was last valued at $2B.

Its growth has been meteoric.


Searches for e-learning platform Udemy came down from a big pandemic spike, but are on their way back up.

More and more traditional accredited universities are offering online curricula as well.

MIT was a trail blazer here, offering pre-recorded world-class courses online for free with the MITx program (launched in 2011).

But lots of other colleges have now entered the online education space, including offering fully online bachelor’s degrees - though not for free.

Still more universities started offering live online courses as an emergency measure during the coronavirus crisis. It’s only natural that a good portion of them will continue to offer the same in the future as well.

And because some of the most popular tools being used to conduct live online courses weren’t specifically designed for education - for example, Zoom - you can bet that there will be many more purpose-built tools available to educators soon.

4. MasterClass Brings Instructors with Star Power

Yes, Udemy is a top player in the online education space. But there’s another platform that’s growing quickly: MasterClass.


MasterClass is another platform which enjoyed a massive pandemic spike. Putting that aside, long-term growth is steady.

MasterClass has taken a unique spin on online training. Instead of hiring professional teachers (like college professors), their courses are taught by practitioners in the field.

Often celebrities.

For example, you can learn about filmmaking from Martin Scorsese.

Or business from former Disney CEO Bob Iger.

This unconventional approach has paid off big time for MasterClass. They recently raised $100M on an $800M valuation.

With MasterClass seeing unprecedented success, expect to see more education platforms tap into big-name instructors for their courses in the coming years.

5. Independent Entrepreneurs Create Online Courses

Udemy made it so anyone with a camera could launch their own online course. Just one problem: Udemy keeps a hefty cut of the revenue.

So many course creators and “infopreneurs” are now choosing to sell courses from their own websites, cutting out the middleman.

Until recently, this could be a real challenge. Between creating a course members’ area on your website to setting up payment processing and video hosting, a lot of administration time and technical skills were required to offer a course by yourself.

But a number of new players have made this all a lot easier.

For example, Thinkific.

Thinkific is an all-in-one tool for online course creation, promotion and hosting.

It has made it super easy for entrepreneurs, bloggers and YouTubers to host and manage courses on their own sites. And to keep the vast majority of revenue for themselves.

And it's been exploding in popularity:


Average daily searches for "Thinkific" over time.

Another example of this is Teachable.

Similar to Thinkific, Teachable offers software and cloud hosting for course creation and management. Plus payment processing.

In fact, Teachable boasts that course creators on its platform have earned over $500 million.

If that's the case, maybe the teachers of the future won't be so underpaid.


Teachable's homepage.

6. Niche Education Platforms Take Off

General platforms like Udemy and MasterClass are great if you want to learn how to write a screenplay. Or cook a great meal.

But they’re lacking when it comes to advanced courses that professionals in technical fields need to advance their career.

Which is why niche platforms for specific groups are starting to pop up. These platforms provide the kind of deep, advanced training that isn’t broadly available elsewhere.

For example, Cybrary provides courses for people in IT. They even design their courses around tests that IT professionals need to pass in order to get important certifications.


Online trainings available from Cybrary.

Another example of technically-minded niche education is Hack The Box. This online school offers training solutions for cybersecurity professionals (and students who want to enter the field).

It also uses gamification techniques to run in-depth competitions - complete with a scoring system and global leaderboard.


Searches for "Hack The Box" have been increasing rapidly.

7. New Startups Offer More Homeschooling Options

About 3.4% of school-aged children in the U.S. are homeschooled each year.

And interest in homeschooling has been on the rise for some time now. With an even bigger spike this year due to the coronavirus.


The average daily searches for "homeschooling" over time.

Lately, a variety of startups have entered this growing space.

One example is Outschool

Started by former employees of Google, Square and Airbnb, this edtech startup matches students with teachers online for a small-group, virtual learning experience - live.


Outschool is a fully live, teacher-led homeschooling platform.

Another example is Prenda.

Prenda's approach is different. Rather than being online, Prenda's focus is "microschools": small groups of students who meet in person, outside of a traditional classroom environment.


Prenda's approach to homeschooling is community-centered small group learning.

In Conclusion

That wraps up our list of the top trends in education this year.

It's exciting to see where the education sector is headed.

While some approaches may remain a constant, new technology is expanding educational abilities without increasing costs.

And at the same time, new science-based approaches to teaching are improving the learning experience for students of all ages.

Last Updated: 
January 13, 2021
Kyle Byers
Co-founder of Exploding Topics and GrowthBadger.

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