The impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on societies is still at an early stage, with suitable data to assess it lacking. In contrast to conventional data collection, which requires time for gathering the information of interest, data from internet searches allow for observation of developments almost in real time.
Cedefop exploited this advantage by using Google Trends data to determine whether the Covid-19-related social distancing that complicates or even impedes face-to-face learning increased the interest in distance learning arrangements.
To this end, data on search trends from January 2018 to end of April 2020 for the queries ‘e-learning’, ‘online course’, and ‘online training’ were collected by country and averaged for the EU-27. The search terms were selected based on the assumption that they are widely used with respect to modern learning arrangements in any country.
Google Trends provides indexed search volumes for each country. The highest search volume on a certain date in a given period is set to 100. With regard to the averaged EU trend, it would be 100 if all countries had their peak volume on the same date. The data do not allow for determining the total counts of search queries but they allow visualising the trend of search volumes in the reference period.
The resulting pattern for the search terms shows a parallel and sudden increase for all three terms in 2020 as Covid-19 spread and social distancing measures were implemented in Europe, while the respective search activity remained stable over the past two years. It is yet to be seen whether the trend indicates a sustainable boost in the popularity of distance and internet learning or whether interest will drop to the pre-crisis level once Covid-19 disappears.