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Online Learning is unblocking gender and diversity gaps in tech education

Short, online courses can unblock gender and other diversity issues in digital skills education say @IoCoding 

Digital learning initiative, Institute of Coding (IoC) reveals new figures that show how online learning is levelling out a previously male-orientated field. IoC announced today (9 Sept) that it is seeing signs of improved diversity on some of its short courses, including near gender parity on its collection of online digital skills courses hosted on leading social learning platform FutureLearn and created in partnership with the University of Leeds.

Recent course sign-ups on their digital skills programme, that has enrolled more than half a million learners during lockdown, have shown a near gender balance (47% female vs 51% male[1]) – which is a marked improvement from the gender split seen last year in more traditional digital skills education, where only 16% of computer science graduates were women.[2]  

The IoC have also seen a massive uptake on their online programmes since the start of lockdown (an almost 2,000% increase since February 2020), demonstrating a new national need to upskill and reskill from home.

The course collection, titled ‘Digital Skills for the Workplace’, accounts for over 500,000 of the IoC’s online enrolments and offers 15 different courses on topics such as creating a professional online presence, basic computer programming and communication skills. Designed for individuals who are looking to upskill and enhance their employability, these short courses have a particular focus on digital skills that are essential for the world of work. 

Drawing heavily on input from industry experts to ensure learners gain the skills employers need, the collection offers a flexible method of upskilling.

It has proved attractive to a wide variety of participants, including: 

  • women (47% of surveyed learners are women), 
  • people outside of the traditional university age cohort (more than half of surveyed learners are over the age of 25), and 
  • people who are looking for work or are at different points in their career (19% of surveyed learners are unemployed or looking for work and 48% are working full-time, part-time or are self-employed). 

Reception of the digital skills courses has been overwhelmingly positive, with most courses averaging 4.7 out of 5 stars and learners commenting on their usefulness in terms of careers and prospects.

Caroline Dinenage MP 100x100Minister of State for Digital and Culture, Caroline Dinenage said: 

“I’m pleased such a diverse group of learners is reaping the benefits of these fantastic courses and I urge anyone looking to improve their digital know-how to sign up. Our digital economy can help power the UK’s economic recovery from coronavirus and we are determined to make sure everyone can develop the digital skills they need to succeed in the workplace.”

The impact these courses could have on learners’ professional lives, especially as the UK recovers from the disruption to employment caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, has also been recognised by the Department for Education (DfE), which featured six of the fifteen courses developed by the IoC, FutureLearn and the University of Leeds in its new online platform called The Skills Toolkit

The Skills Toolkit gives access to free, high-quality digital and numeracy courses to help people build up their skills, progress in work and boost job prospects. It is open to everyone, whether they are out of work or thinking about changing jobs, have just graduated and are looking to start their career, or if they’re just keen to keep their mind healthy and busy.

An increasing move to flexible and modular educational delivery is an important part of the IoC’s mission to respond to the growing digital skills gap in the UK, especially as the Covid-19 pandemic continues to alter the present and future landscape of work and education, with a large number of people experiencing disruption in their careers. This includes at least 9.3 million temporarily out of work and 1.56 million unemployed in the UK alone. Research also suggests that women are being disproportionately affected by the pandemic, as they are more likely to be laid off than men. 

Rachid Hourizi, Director of the Institute of Coding said:

“It is clear that, as the UK’s economy turns to the tech sector for recovery, a broad and diverse group of people will need digital skills. However, the national digital skills gap still requires a fundamental structural change that aligns employers and educators more closely together, while helping individuals navigate the landscape of digital education. The Institute of Coding is leading the charge when it comes to encouraging this change, through campaigns such as CTRL Your Future and collaboration with leading employer bodies like techUK. Lockdown has signalled a real appetite for more accessible and flexible courses and we’re here to meet this demand.”

Gillian Keegan100x100Minister for Apprenticeships and Skills, Gillian Keegan said:

 “It is wonderful to see so many people from a wide range of backgrounds are engaging with online learning to boost their knowledge. Online courses, such as those on The Skills Toolkit, are an excellent way to gain the vital digital and numeracy skills most valued by employers. With 82% of all job openings requiring at least basic digital skills it is more important than ever that people are able to build their confidence and learn the skills they need to succeed. I’d encourage anyone looking to learn some new skills or boost their knowledge, from graduates to those already in the workplace, to go online and take advantage of the wide range of free, high-quality courses available.”

Justin Cooke FutureLearnJustin Cooke, Chief Content and Partnerships Officer at FutureLearn said:

 “It’s fantastic to see that more than half a million learners from a diversity of backgrounds are finding great value in these digital skills development courses. We are proud that our partnership with the Institute of Coding and the University of Leeds is delivering on our shared vision to transform access to education. This exciting collaboration between industry and academia, delivered on FutureLearn’s unique social learning platform, enables people to learn new skills with others at their own pace. We hope that this partnership will continue to give learners across the globe access to such vital opportunities to upskill or reskill, both now and beyond the pandemic.”

Professor Neil Morris, Dean of Digital Education, University of Leeds said:

“It is fantastic to see these online courses proving so valuable to individuals who will be able to use the knowledge and skills gained to start, or progress, their careers.

“It is particularly pleasing to see these courses reaching, and appealing to, people who have not traditionally engaged with Massive Open Online Courses. This is a testament to the teams involved in designing and creating the courses who have used our research in this area to ensure they represent and portray the target audience, and offer engaging, interactive, learning opportunities inclusive to all.”

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