ELearning Trends According to Google 2012

This month at the European Learning Industry Group (ELIG) Conference in Dublin, Jonny Parkes (formerly Electric Paper) chastised some elearning companies for playing up the hype curve and bringing the e-learning industry into disrepute by making mobile/gaming/you name it promises that reality couldn’t deliver.

We decided to try to get behind the hype by looking at what people are really searching for on Google. It is not easy to draw conclusions just from Google search volumes, and they will be influenced by market hype, but it might allow us to draw some general conclusions on elearning trends.

What we found was surprising.

What do you think?

Before we get into the findings what trends would you expect to see?

Let's take some common elearning technologies and learning approaches that you might read about in articles, vendor promotions and blog posts.Do you think global searches for the following terms have increased or decreased over the last 5 or so years?

  • Elearning (increase or decrease)
  • Social learning (increase or decrease)
  • Informal learning (increase or decrease)
  • Blended learning (increase or decrease)
  • Mobile learning (increase or decrease)
  • MOOC - mass online open courses (increase or decrease)
  • Avatars (increase or decrease)

Ok, got your answers. Be honest now, before we look at the results.


There has been a small but gradual increase in search volumes globally since 2007 as can be seen below.

Worldwide search volumes since 2004

Social Learning

Despite being a much talked about concept recently, Google searches for social learning have declined slightly since 2004.

Worldwise searches for social learning

Blended Learning

There was a slight fall in search volumes since 2004 but there may be signs of an increase in recent months.

Worldwide searches for blended learning

Informal Learning

The resurgence of interest in the 70:20:10 informal learning model has not been matched by an increase in Google searches.

Worldwide searches for informal learning

Mobile Learning

We expected to see significant increases in searches for mobile learning and there has been some growth globally as can be seen below.

worldwide searches for mobile learning

Interestingly when we look by country, things are less clear cut. In the UK for example search volumes for mobile learning have not changed since 2007 as shown below.

UK searches for mobile learning

This was a surprising finding so we thought maybe people were searching for Mlearning. However, when we compared searches for "mobile learning" and mlearning, we found mlearning was used far less than "mobile learning" as a search term as can be seen below.

Mobile learning v mlearning

Relative Search Volumes

This prompted us to look at relative search volumes. The graph below shows relative search volumes for elearning, mobile learning and mlearning in that order.

Relative search volumes

We then added Moodle as a search term. Moodle is a popular open source LMS platform. This revealed that comparatively the number of people searching for elearning is low and even lower for mobile learning and mlearning.

Relative search volumes Moodle

Moodle is the Green line, Elearning is the yellow line and Mobile Learning is the red line. Mlearning is effectively at zero in the comparison.

Responsive Design

The world of the internet is moving quickly towards single responsive web designs rather than separate versions for mobiles, tablets and desktops. This can be seen when comparing the search volumes for mobile web design and responsive web design below. Responsive design appears to be rising dramatically as HTML5 improves. Thus it could be that searches for mobile learning are not increasing as people are after single responsive designs that work on all devices.

Mobile web design v responsive web design


The other area which saw dramatic rises in search volumes was MOOC, massive online open courses. The chart below shows the volume of searches for MOOC compared to mobile learning.

MOOC v mobile learning


Avatars were much talked about with the launch of Second Life, remember that, you may still have an Avatar hanging around in Second Life. The concept was very much in vogue at that time and we can see that search volumes have declined. However, we have to be a little cautious as these search terms do not relate directly to learning applications for Avatars.

worldwide searches for avatars


Jonny Parkes was right about the danger of hype. Whilst Google search volumes may not be the best indicator of elearning trends, they do allow us to sense check some of the hype and see what people are actually looking for in their search engines.