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New significant global study reveals covid-19 has propelled next generation to focus on social issues amid online learning boom @FutureLearn

  • Global learning platform FutureLearn publishes in-depth study, of the UK, USA and Australia, including 15 industry expert insights and YouGov data, into the Future of Learning and how COVID-19 has fundamentally changed the learning landscape 

  • Four core themes from the report were revealed including: women and learning, generational distinctions, access and inclusion and self-education, and personal and professional development 

  • Diversity and inclusion issues are overcome by online learning and spaces that ‘don’t set up prejudices in advance’ says Diana Laurillard, Professor of Learning with Digital Technologies at UCL

Published today, the Future of Learning report features commentary from 15 culture, technology, education and learning experts and includes insight from the UK, Australia and the USA. The study reveals ten key global trends in learning* including; women believing that education has the power to make the world a better place, real progress is being made around the inclusivity and accessibility of learning, the younger generation is accelerating change in education with online learning increasing, and ‘jobs for life’ are rapidly on the decline. 

The Future of Learning report explored four core themes for learning development

  • Women and learning

  • Generational distinctions

  • Access and inclusion and self-education

  • Personal and professional development

Key take outs from the themes include over a third of women believe that in the future, education will empower people to solve the world’s biggest issues such as the climate crisis, environmental and corporate sustainability, human rights and access to justice (38%). Millennials (22%) and nearly two in five of Gen Z (37%), are turning to social media platforms such as Instagram to self-educate on socio-political issues. Younger generations are driving a change towards online learning, with over a fifth (21%) of millennials strongly agreeing that it can provide similar benefits to a traditional form of education. Almost half of the population (49%) think, in the future, education will have better access for disabled people. 

Inclusion and access: Opening up opportunities 

Almost half of people globally (49%) think education will be more accessible and better for people with disabilities. In response to this, Josie Fraser, Deputy Vice-Chancellor at The Open University, said that ‘we have to solve and tackle digital poverty’ in order to see the benefits.

Online learning is better for introverts according to 48% of those surveyed. Just over two in five (43%) feel online learning enables people to feel more confident to learn about the subjects they wouldn’t usually feel comfortable taking because of the privacy it provides. This is especially so for those from minority backgrounds as online spaces ‘don’t set up prejudices in advance’ says Diana Laurillard, Professor of Learning with Digital Technologies at UCL who took part in the report. Dylan Williams, Chief Strategy Officer at Droga 5 also commented that “there is an opportunity for us to better educate everybody in a more sensitive way, understanding how different people innately think and advancing different approaches accordingly”.

Women: The impact education is having and will have 

In the UK, women are more likely to agree that online learning allows for more diversity and inclusion in the education sector (47% vs men at 41%). More women are choosing to ‘study traditionally male-dominated sectors, such as engineering, pharmacy and accounting due to online accessibility’ claims Ranata Hughes, Educator at Florida A&M University. In parallel to this research, tech and coding courses on FutureLearn are surging with female learners, 350% more people took a FutureLearn tech and coding course in 2020, compared to 2019, and driving the trend is women who make up 54% of those learners. 

Women believe education will be directly empowering people to solve the world’s biggest issues such as the climate crisis, environmental and corporate sustainability, human rights and access to justice in the future (38%). As well as believing education can help the world, women feel it can better help their wellbeing; 35% of women globally want to learn more about nutrition, diet and physical health, while 38% want to expand their knowledge on mental health and mindfulness. Improving personal  confidence (52%) and expanding their interests as well as hobbies (46%) also featured highly as motivations to learn.

Generations and the evolution of self-education through digital 

The Black Lives Matter Movement, LGBTQ+ rights and the gender pay gap are important political issues in society. Over a quarter of Millennials (22%) and nearly two in five Gen-Zs (37%), are turning to social media platforms such as Instagram to self-educate on these matters. 

Nearly a quarter of people globally (23%) would like to see education features on social media platforms in the future for learning; much like what is already offered through the shop tab feature on Instagram, the 'marketplace' function on Facebook, and 'Topics' feature on Twitter. With over two-fifths of the global population citing having a positive impact on their community (41%) or the world (41%) as a result of learning more about certain subject areas, there is ongoing enthusiasm to learn about important topics such as politics, human rights and career development. 

As well as being more socially conscious, the world is becoming more environmentally aware. The likes of Greta Thunberg will be pleased to know that nearly two-fifths of people globally (37%) think future education will empower people to solve the world’s biggest issues such as the climate crisis and environmental and corporate sustainability, human rights and access to justice. 

Online learning: The future of personal & professional development 

Millennials are driving the change for online learning with over one in five (21%) strongly agreeing that it can provide similar benefits to a traditional education, slightly higher than Generation Z (18%). Online learning has increased in popularity because ‘Covid-19 has been the catalyst to digitalisation of the education sector’ says Dean Patricia Davidson, School of Nursing, John Hopkins.

In the next five years, those in Australia (43%) and the USA (40%) are more likely than Brits (33%) to take an online course to expand their knowledge for personal development as people’s priorities shift when looking at the impact of the pandemic. 

Looking past personal development and into careers, roughly a third (32%) of people surveyed feel they do not currently have the skills needed to set up a business in the next 10 years. A quarter of Australians (25%) followed by 20% of Americans and 21% of Brits, would prefer to work in a different industry altogether in 2030. Interestingly, according to SEEK, Australian jobs platform and co-investor in FutureLearn, information and communication technology, including jobs such as developer, DevOps engineer and software engineer, 72% of jobseekers who had at least one job in the last two years held 5-10 jobs every five years, illustrating the ‘job for life’ is becoming or may now have already become a thing of the past for most people.

“Online learning grew in popularity during the pandemic and is set to continue doing so as technology advances. The current advancement in technology means that the population expects bigger and better tech, such as virtual reality by 2030. We explore the latest technological innovations but they must be provided within universal access to learning; ensuring their utilisation is integrated with our understanding of the issues that impact our world today, as evident by the proportion of people wanting to learn about environmental issues, inclusivity and diversity” said Matt Jenner, Director of Learning at FutureLearn

The future of learning  

Throughout the report, there is a lot of excitement and expectation around the future of learning from both experts and the public. There was clear agreement among the experts interviewed that in the future, linear pathways of learning, should and would be replaced by lifelong learning. 

There was also broad agreement that learning in the future should and would be more personalised, whether that was because of expectations of students who are used to personalisation in many other aspects of their lives, or because of the need to personalise learning for people who are neurodiverse. 

Many thought that technology would be able to help with personalised learning. For example, by giving teachers the opportunity to use virtual reality and AI as part of their teaching. The sentiment was that technology could support the educator rather than replace them. The public were also interested in technology innovations with 36% of respondents stating they would like to learn through the means of virtual reality, closely followed by augmented reality. 

While the experts were excited about the role technology could play in the future of learning, this excitement also came with a warning with many experts highlighting that not everyone has access to even basic technology and that as both the education sector, and technology companies, we needed to be careful that technology did not widen the existing digital divide but instead, work to close it so everyone has the same opportunities. 

As people across the globe are hungry to keep learning and developing themselves personally and professionally, FutureLearn has just launched ExpertTracks, a new digital product designed to give individuals flexible, subscription-based access to in-demand skills, on-demand for career and personal development. 

“FutureLearn’s newly launched product, ExpertTracks, aims to meet learner demand for topics that not only explore social issues but subjects that will give them a competitive edge in their career’, says Matt Jenner, Director of Learning at FutureLearn.

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