The Market for Digital English Language Learning

According to a report entitled ‘The 2013-2018 Worldwide Digital English Language Learning Market’ published in August 2014 by research group Ambient Insight, the value of all English language learning products (both digital and non-digital) sold in 2013 was around $35.5 billion. Somewhat surprisingly, only 5% of this total was generated by the sale of digital products.

The report predicts that the sale of digital English language learning products will “surge” to around $3.1 billion by 2018. While that’s a reasonable compound annual growth rate of 11,1%, it still represents less than 10% of the total market value of English language learning products sold in 2013. Isn’t that rather underwhelming?

In August last year I published a post on this blog which listed some of the possible reasons why the transition from classroom-based language teaching to Web-based language teaching hasn’t moved as fast as some of us confidently predicted. One year on and it feels like we might just be about to move out of second gear…

The Ambient Insight report lists five major catalysts driving the growth (such as it is) towards digital English language learning. These are:

1. Large-scale digitization initiative in academic segments. For example, the goal in Brazil is to have all content (including English learning content) in high schools available in digital format by 2017.

2. New Educational policies for English language learning. In other words, governments around the world are implementing policies designed to improve the level of English of their student populations and, at least in some cases, this will stimulate demand for digital content.

3. Consumer demand for mobile language learning. This is described as “Perhaps the most important long-term catalyst for digital English language products.” In this case “products” is taken to mean “apps” and “edugames” although we all know that serious self-paced learning courses can also work perfectly well on tablets (if not so readily on phones).

4. The proliferation of Mobile Learning value added services (VAS). In other words, sign up for a service provided by your local, friendly mobile network operator and get a ‘free’ English course (or app or edugame) as part of the package.

5. The demand for specialised forms of English – otherwise known as ESP courses. In this case, the clients tend to be corporates and that encourages providers to produce suitably high tech solutions – or so the theory goes.

The report clearly states that not every catalyst is present everywhere. It also lists a number of secondary catalysts it has identified including “the steady adoption of digital products in the private English language learning industry.” Perhaps. Although in my experience “steady” in this instance should probably be taken to mean “just about perceptible”.

The complete Ambient Insight report runs to 351 pages and costs rather more than most private language schools could afford to pay. There is however a very useful summary available free on their website: www.ambientinsight.com

To my mind, the report raises a many questions as it answers. For example:

If there are so many catalysts driving growth in digital products, why is the annual compound figure a steady 11% rather than a brisker 15% or 20%?

Are text books still going to dominate our lives in 2018?

Who can I speak to in Brazil to get our digital English products into their high school project?

As always, any comments or suggestions are welcome.

One comment

  1. Interesting report. Generally, I imagine worldwide demand for digital products will follow closely behind the proliferation of smartphones and tablets and the availability of higher internet speeds throughout the developing world.

    Though every large city in the world will have some demand, as an individual I’ve had the most luck so far marketing to Western Europe.

    Like

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