For anyone looking to undertake some sort of study in the future, it’s getting easier and much, much cheaper. How’s free sound?

Universities globally are  increasing the number of online courses, and trying to capitalise on the growing demand for education, as people in developing nations seek out additional means of improving their living standards and incomes. Demand could also increase when global economic conditions deteriorate, as more people look to improve their employment prospects.

Massive open online courses (MOOCs) are following the explosion in popularity of online games, with many universities now offering courses – with the ultimate aim being to attract students to enrol in additional fee-paying courses.

It’s not just universities offering training, but a multitude of training organisations taking advantage of the internet to offer online training. According to training.gov.au, there are 4,910 registered training organisations, competing with 135 universities in Australia alone. The advantages for universities and other training organisations is the ability to free up teaching resources, with fewer teachers needed for a similar number of students.

Education is one of Australia’s largest industries and appears to be one where Australia has a competitive advantage. It is ranked in the top 10 in the national accounts for “gross value added”. But it could also be under threat, with some experts suggesting that online education could mean the end of universities. We all know what happens when people can get something for free instead of having to pay for it – just look at the rise of peer-to-peer file sharing programs and music and DVD piracy, and how that has transformed several industries. Newspapers are also suffering similar pains with news online available for free.

Australia has just a few listed pure education companies, including Navitas (ASX: NVT), Redhill Education (ASX: RDH) and Academies Australasia Group (ASX: AKG), although job advertiser, Seek Limited (ASX: SEK) has also entered the education market. They could be stocks to watch, as we see online education expand further, and demand for education from developing Asian nations rises.

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Motley Fool writer/analyst Mike King doesn’t own shares in any companies mentioned. The Motley Fool’s purpose is to help the world invest, better. Take Stock is The Motley Fool’s free investing newsletter. Packed with stock ideas and investing advice, it is essential reading for anyone looking to build and grow their wealth in the years ahead. Click here now to request your free subscription, whilst it’s still available. This article contains general investment advice only (under AFSL 400691). Authorised by Bruce Jackson.

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