Effects of COVID-19 on eLearning Demand

It’s been about 2 months now since Uncanny Owl started seeing changes related to COVID-19, and since then our business has been anything but normal. We wanted to share some of the changes we’ve seen in the elearning and LearnDash space in case it’s of interest to our customers, prospective LearnDash users and the elearning community in general. The last 6 weeks in particular have been a very strange time for us.

The first two weeks

The second week of March is when businesses and schools here (in Ontario Canada) started shutting down due to the coronavirus. Our consulting clients started working from home (our team normally works remotely anyway) and we began to see some worry among plugin customers. By the second week we were seeing a noticeable uptick in refunds due to cash flow concerns among businesses using LearnDash and work from existing consulting clients was either reduced or there was more emphasis on keeping costs down.

This period is when we mostly saw panic, businesses weren’t pivoting yet and everyone was trying to figure out what came next. Organizations that we support that offer blended learning (both online and offline classes) started to shift to online only, but at this time there was still hope that things would be resolved quickly and that by May they could offer live classes again.

Here’s something else that was interesting in March: The most-visited page on our website was a very old blog post about virtual classrooms. Not our plugin pages, not even our homepage, an article that was several years old about helping businesses adapt to virtual learning was bringing in the most traffic. This was indicative of businesses exploring their options in a COVID-19 world.

April org changes and growth

April is when we started to see businesses pivot and move to more online delivery of training. For Uncanny Owl it was probably our most stressful month in years, not only because of the launch of the free version of Uncanny Automator, but because we saw a huge increase in plugin sales. Our volume in April was up over 40% compared to January and February and web traffic was up about the same amount. This sounds good, but we had a really hard time adapting to the associated increase in support tickets; those were up by about 34% compared to March. In April our team sent over 1,000 replies to customers, an all-time record for us, and it did unfortunately mean we had to push back on some work for existing clients.

Uncanny Help Desk Replies

As organizations started to move more online and needed elearning solutions, we also had to field more requests for projects; people needing a LearnDash website increased a lot. The developers and agencies we normally referred projects to (since we weren’t accepting any) were also too busy, so we had more trouble with referrals. And one thing was also clear about the increase: while elearning demand was up, budgets were down. Even for the consulting work we were committed to, instead of just moving forward with development tasks as we normally would, we started providing estimates and going deeper into scoping before any work started. So for us, even while product revenues were up a lot, consulting revenues were down significantly. For the last year or so we’ve generally maintained a balance of 60% product sales to 40% consulting revenue, whereas in April it was more like 90/10. That’s a big change to our business model and we’re still working on getting the right team structure in place to accommodate that.

Support from the LearnDash community

The first few weeks of March, when organizations were just starting to feel the effects of the shutdown and were struggling to adapt, also resulted in many organizations that could help the elearning community step forward in creative ways. Some people in the LearnDash circle offered webinars, discounted invoices to clients, product discounts and more. They also volunteered their services to help where they could; we were fortunate to be in a position where we could volunteer our developers to help the NHS in the UK better deliver training to first responders.

We at Uncanny Owl also offered discounts to organizations affected by COVID-19, an extended refund period on plugin purchases, extended invoicing terms for consulting clients and more, but we didn’t see much indication that those measures helped. And, once the initial March shock and repositioning turned into the April growth, some of the transitional measures that the LearnDash community was offering were harder to sustain given how busy April was.

COVID-19 surprises

We expected the increase in refund requests in March, but it surprised us to see those taper offer in April and return to normal (and very low) levels.

We thought we were helping by offering discounts to organizations affected by COVID-19, but since we extended that offer in March we’ve had fewer than 10 requests. Whether it’s people that don’t know about the option, don’t think they qualify or simply don’t want to ask we don’t know, but the few number of requests has surprised us. If you are affected by the coronavirus and want to use our products but cost is holding you back, please do reach out.

Another big surprise for us was that while plugin sales were up, Uncanny LP sales were not. We thought it was a perfect fit for organizations affected by COVID-19; many needed to switch to elearning immediately, and due to decreased budgets needed a platform that they could launch at very low cost and very quickly. Uncanny LP is made for exactly that situation, but we just haven’t seen elevated interest in that platform. Even though LearnDash developers in general now are seeing increased demand, and organizations going the DIY route are looking at launch dates that are months away, they’re still choosing that route (as measured by our plugin sales) rather than taking the easy route with Uncanny LP.

What’s next

At Uncanny Owl, we’re expecting things to return to closer to what we saw in January and February, especially going into the summer. We’re anticipating our product/services mix to shift to about 80/20 in the next month or so, and overall demand to decrease slightly. We are not expecting budgets to increase though and we expect LearnDash site growth to expand overall, just not at the pace we saw in April. Given decreased budgets and an increasing need for pure and blended elearning solutions, LearnDash and WordPress are both well positioned for the changes in education we have just started to see.

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