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Online learning bolsters chances of promotion

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FutureLearn, the online social learning platform owned by The Open University, has today published new research revealing that employees’ chances of promotion and securing a new role are enhanced by taking an online course.

Nearly three quarters (73%) of employers said they thought online courses were either very valuable (33%) or valuable (40%) when considering the promotion of an existing employee.

Professional development through online learning also carried favour among employers when hiring. Online learning was a ‘differentiating factor’ when assessing candidates with similar qualifications or experience for a new role. This was especially true for those in mid-management (73%) and junior/entry level roles (71%). It was less decisive in more senior roles, but still more than half of employers (61%) said it could be a differentiating factor at director level. 

The research, which surveyed 600 employers performing either recruitment or learning and development roles within an organisation in three territories (UK, US, Australia), found a correlation between the value attributed to online learning and an increase in uptake of online courses among employees within organisations. An overwhelming 92% of employers said they found online courses very valuable (51%) or valuable (41%), which could help explain why 91% of employers (87% in the UK; 98% in the US) said they had seen the amount of online learning increase in their organisation year-on-year.

Once thought of as the poor relation to face-to-face training, a mix of online and offline training was deemed the best way to keep pace with industry changes by nearly two thirds of employers (65%).

There were also interesting synergies between the amount of time and money employers were willing to invest in online training. Four-fifths of employers (80%) said they were willing to provide funding for online courses that staff take at their own initiative. Employers were also happy for nearly 10 hours of work time to be devoted to online learning every month (9.6 hours on average). Most online learning was self-directed (60%), though a significant 32% of respondents said it was half mandated, half self-directed.

The fact that online learning is part of conversations around hiring and promotions, and that employers are reporting an increase in its usage, is all really encouraging. We live in a digital age and it follows that employers should attribute such weight to professional development through digital mediums.

If we don’t actively encourage upskilling we risk sleepwalking into an era of almost unprecedented technological change. Online learning provides a platform that allows upskilling at scale and can be rolled out company-wide.

If previously ‘professional development’ has meant cross-diarising and herding as many people into a room as possible for the afternoon, here is a solution that offers greater flexibility and allows learners to go at their own pace and balance professional development against competing priorities — while still having the benefits of being on the same course as their coworkers.  

On FutureLearn, we have everything from specialist courses on subjects like coding, to courses that help develop ‘soft skills’, which is likely to be an increasingly important point of differentiation in the age of AI.

Now we’ve moved into the online degree space, we’re at a really exciting point in the history of online learning, which we believe will play a critical role in the years ahead.

Many businesses have already adopted online learning and we expect to see greater numbers call on the medium to upskill employees at scale in future. Ultimately, it’s an organisation’s bottom line and the economy at large that will prosper. And that benefits us all.

Stephen Somerville, Managing Director, Government and Employer Partnerships, FutureLearn

About FutureLearn:A leading social learning platform formed in December 2012 by The Open University and is now the largest online learning platform in Europe with almost eight million people signed up worldwide. FutureLearn uses design, technology and partnerships to create enjoyable, credible and flexible online courses and postgraduate degrees that improve working lives. It partners with over a quarter of the world’s top universities, as well as organisations such as Accenture, the British Council, CIPD, Raspberry Pi and the New York Institute of Finance.

Survey sample


Sample size

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To what extent do you find online courses valuable when considering the promotion of an existing employee?

300 (Recruiters Only)

Would you consider online courses a key differentiating factor when assessing various candidates with a similar qualification or experience for a new role?

300 (Recruiters Only)

To what extent do you find online courses valuable for learning and development?

300 (Training & Development Only)

From year to year, has the amount of online learning increased in your organisation

300 (Training & Development Only)

Which of these forms of training is the best way to keep up with industry changes

300 (Training & Development Only)

The majority say that they provide funding for online courses for staff to take at their own initiative

300 (Training & Development Only)

How many hours of online learning per month would you allow your employees to take during work time?

300 (Training & Development Only)

To what extent is online learning curated in your organisation?

300 (Training & Development Only)


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