Posted on 17 Jun '22

4 Things We Have Noticed About Online Learning – Postgraduate Pulse Insights

Got five minutes? Here are four things we’ve noticed with our users interested in online learning on FindAMasters in the past few months.

I’m going to use a mix of data in this article, drawing on some of what we’re seeing from user behaviour on FindAMasters, along with results from our ongoing Pulse survey. That way we can not only see what prospective postgraduates are doing, but also compare that with what they are thinking and feeling.


  • Interest in online learning is still increasing
  • Mature students are most interested in online learning options
  • Education and Law are the most popular disciplines for online learning
  • There's no difference between interest in MScs and MAs

#1 Online learning interest increases amongst UK and international users

We know that at the moment there is an unsure discourse between government and higher education institutions in the quality and delivery of online programmes.

That said, we also know that, since the COVID pandemic in 2020, the idea of completing a postgraduate degree via online learning has become a much more realistic venture. Our traffic trends on FindAMasters seem to support this, with a 3.7% average monthly increase from July 2021 to May 2022 for user searches in online learning. Within this growth, there has been a 6.5% average monthly increase in searches for UK users interested from July 2021 to this year.

How do the responses from our Pulse survey line up with this?

Well, UK users who expressed an interest in online learning crept up from 26.6% in September 2021, to 32.92% in April this year, and there was a drop in interest for on-campus study, from 39.6% to 34.1% in the same period. For our international users, responses for online learning interest were similar, going from 11.4% in September 2021 to 14.9% in April 2022.

Perhaps we are seeing students slowly gain more confidence to take on a fully distance-learning course as we head further into 2022, where institutions are further developing their digital infrastructure to deliver a complete Masters experience from afar.

That said…

#2 Mature students express more interest in online learning than recent grads

Our Pulse responses have shown us a clear dichotomy between the different age groups interested in online learning.

From September 2021 to May 2022, an overwhelming majority of responses from those aged 18-24 were much more interested in studying on campus (76.4%) than online (7.8%), whereas responses from users aged 45 and over revealed a 29.7% interest in online learning and 44.1% interested in on-campus learning. Whilst there is more balance here between online vs on-campus, there is clearly much more interest for the former.

If we think about the undergraduate journey that some will have had over the last two years, there’ll be a mix of those who completed their Bachelors on campus, so are most likely looking for continuity, and those who may have had their studies disrupted and so are looking to recover that on-campus lifestyle during postgraduate study.

#3 Education and Law programmes receive most interest for online learning

Programmes listed on FindAMasters are indexed under specific disciplines to provide a smoother search experience for our users. It’s interesting to drill down into these disciplines to see where online interest is greatest amongst our users. When we do, we find it’s actually Education that has the highest proportion of people interested in online study. In 2021, 38.2% of users interested in Education-based programmes (PGCEs, Teacher Training etc.) viewed options that offered online learning, and this has increased to 41.3% in 2022 so far. Another popular discipline for programmes with online learning options in 2021 was Law, with 37.6% of its user searches viewing options for online delivery, increasing to 40% in 2022.

At the other end of the scale, user interest in online learning is much lower for programmes listed under Chemistry, Geology and Forensic & Archaeological Sciences. In 2022 so far, users searches for online programmes are 12.9% for Chemistry, 14.2% for Forensic & Archaeological Sciences and just 10.63% for Geology. Unsurprising, given the amount of hands-on learning, lab time and specialist equipment is needed for the courses in these kinds of disciplines.

Interestingly, our responses from Pulse show a more shared increase amongst those interested in AHSS or STEM programmes for online learning.

For those interested in studying AHSS programmes at postgrad level, 16.8% expressed interest in online learning in September 2021, to 21.6% in May 2022. For STEM, 14.4% of users expressed interest in online learning in September 2021, to 17.6% in May 2022. This reflects the underlying trend towards online learning that we’ve already mentioned, but it confirms this is happening on both ‘sides of the campus’.

#4 MSc and MAs share equal interest amongst users wanting to learn online, with MBAs taking the lead

One interesting takeaway from the past year is that there is near-equal interest amongst our users in MA and MSc distance learning programmes. Whilst the amount of listings we have for both degrees wildly differs (with MScs being our most common degree type listed on FindAMasters), almost a quarter of users in each (23.8%) have looked at distance learning options when searching for a programme since January 2021. So, the would-be stereotype that MA students typically do more online learning than MSc students is unfounded on FindAMasters.

That said, the most common degree type for users interested in online learning on FindAMasters is without a doubt an MBA. In the last year, 44.9% of users interested in studying an MBA looked at distance learning options. We know there has been historically strong interest in online MBA/ EMBA study, so the trend towards broader online provision of these programmes is only capitalising on an existing demand.

It will be interesting to see what the distance learning picture looks like this time next year. If you are interested in how to best promote your Masters opportunities on FindAMasters, please view our Advertisers’ section and get in touch with an Account Manager today.

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