Covid-Driven Shift to Online Education Fuels Supply Chain MicroMasters Growth

Eva Ponce
Published in
4 min readOct 28, 2020


by Eva Ponce and Chris Caplice

A surge in the number of registrants and verified learners in the MITx MicroMasters® Program in Supply Chain Management attests to the increasing appeal of online education during the Covid-19 pandemic. The numbers also suggest that supply chain management — a subject popularized by the pandemic — is attracting a growing number of virtual learners.

The pandemic is transforming societies on many fronts. This trend, coupled with the rising demand for learning platforms that are more accessible and flexible, will permanently change the education landscape.

Growth in online learning by the numbers

A comparison of the spring/summer 2020 run of each SCx course — which coincides with the coronavirus crisis — with the previous three runs of that course, shows that the number of verified learners (who pay to certify that they passed the course) increased by an average of 84% across all five courses in the program. The number of people who verified in the program’s most popular course, Supply Chain Fundamentals (SC1x), increased dramatically by 104%. Total enrollment (verified plus the audit or free students) increased on average 43% across the five supply chain MicroMasters credential courses.

The number of registrants who stay the course has increased markedly. Moreover, the SC1x conversion rate (the ratio between the numbers of verified learners and registrants) during the pandemic ranges from 11% and 20% across the component courses. In comparison, for the 55 MicroMasters programs offered by almost two dozen universities, the average conversion rate was 2.5% in 2019. The exceptionally high ratio achieved by MIT CTL’s MicroMasters indicates that supply chain management is attracting more serious learners during the pandemic.

It should be noted that the SCx courses are rigorous, and completing them requires a lot of dedication, especially for individuals who have full-time jobs and other commitments. More than 80% of the students are professional, full-time workers, who dedicate an average of eight to 12 hours per week to their SCx studies.

Pre-pandemic demand for education from home

MIT CTL’s supply chain management MicroMasters program was experiencing steady growth before the pandemic. More than 380,000 learners — including some 30,000 who are verified — from 196 countries have enrolled in the program since its inception in 2015.

To some extent, this growth can be attributed to increased interest in alternative educational models, and especially those available virtually. The new generation of online programs known as MOOCs (massive open online courses) is flexible both in terms of how and where courses can be accessed and the pace at which individuals want to learn. Crucially, MOOC-based programs have a vast reach, and can quickly adapt to fast-changing educational needs.

Moreover, MOOCs are thriving at a time when demand for more flexible, affordable education platforms is skyrocketing. This demand is attracting the attention of unconventional providers, such as online behemoths Amazon and Google.

Amazon Web Services (AWS) is working with institutions from several states in the US to integrate its cloud computing curriculum into certificate and degree programs. AWS is creating a four-year degree pathway in cloud computing in collaboration with two universities.

In an effort to bolster the skills its industry needs and to make higher education more accessible, Google is offering online professional certificates in key subjects such as data analytics and project management. Google also is making 100,000 needs-based scholarships available to help individuals complete their certificate programs.

Google wants to widen the pool of learners by creating new educational options. “College degrees are out of reach for many Americans, and you shouldn’t need a college diploma to have economic security,” wrote Kent Walker, senior vice president of global affairs at Google.

Covid adds momentum to online learning

Now, the Covid-19 virus is catalyzing the shift to online learning and thereby the democratization of education — the MicroMasters program’s core mission. In effect, the pandemic is accelerating the changes that were underway before it erupted.

For example, work-from-home mandates and lockdowns have increased the use of online platforms as a means to communicate. Consequently, individuals and their employers have become more familiar with online environments. Flexible at-home work schedules free of commuting demands afford people time to further their careers through upskilling. Another factor is the historically high unemployment rates triggered by the Covid-19 crisis. During such times, people look for alternative education channels to give them more employment options.

The pandemic also has raised people’s awareness of the supply chain management profession. Many of the challenges brought by the pandemic, such as product scarcities and difficulties in procuring personal protective equipment, are framed as supply chain issues. The term “supply chain” has become a common currency during the crisis.

The road ahead for teaching and learning

Some of these pandemic-related changes will fade as the crisis subsides. However, certain changes will not be rolled back, as democratization reshapes the way education is designed, delivered, and consumed. And online models will be at the center of these changes.

In his new book, The New (Ab)Normal: Reshaping Business and Supply Chain Strategy Beyond Covid-19, Yossi Sheffi, Director of MIT CTL, describes how the $671 billion higher education industry in the US will attract more corporate interest over time. Sheffi envisions the emergence of dominant online social education networks “offering thousands of learning modules, curated by AI, and customized individually to each student’s learning goals, learning styles, and abilities.”

Pioneering learning institutions such as MIT CTL will also be part of the mix. Indeed, MIT CTL is already developing some of the innovations outlined by Sheffi. For example, we are using AI to improve student retention, and the MIT Supply Chain Management blended program is a hybrid option that combines in-person and online MicroMasters learning methods.

The Covid-19 pandemic brings the need for these changes into sharper focus, and those education providers who do not keep pace will become obsolete.



Eva Ponce

Director of Omnichannel Distribution Strategies Executive Director of the MITx MicroMasters in Supply Chain Management at MIT CTL.