From education to employment

Pandemic sees rise in creative ambition, OU survey finds



  • Six in ten of us took up something creative in 2020
  • Most popular activity was reading for pleasure (30%)
  • Nearly 20% found ways to learn a new subject
  • Turning to study proved popular among those aged 18-34
  • Results reveal motivation to give things a try in lockdown

Reading, writing, DIY or watching online videos, it seems the pandemic has prompted people to get in touch with their creative side, a survey from The Open University has found.

Six out of ten people polled (61%) said they had taken up something creative – however big or small – when lockdowns were introduced last year.

Both men and women reported a surge in their creative activity, 56% and 67% respectively, with women under 44 being the most likely to have got their creative juices flowing.

Activities varied and showed that whatever people’s creative ambition (whether reading, cooking or taking up new study), these could all provide a welcome release in lockdown.

The highest activities came out as reading for pleasure (30%), while 28% reported taking up cookery and/or following new recipes. Third highest activity was doing general DIY (22%) followed by knitting or crochet, colouring, photography or other arts and crafts (each at 8% respectively).

Just under one in five people (19%) said they had started learning or reading about a subject, history being the most popular of the choices. Turning to study was also most popular among those aged 18-34 (41%).

Watching videos was reported as being the most popular way to engage in learning (37%), followed by reading a novel (31%) or a non-fiction book (27%).

Some 15% reported that they had started a free course, with 4% saying they did a paid course leading to a qualification and 4% saying they opted for ones that did not lead to an attainment level.

Those aged 18-44 were more likely to have started a free course and more likely to have started a paid for course leading to a qualification than those 45+, the poll found.

Dr Sally O’Reilly, senior lecturer, creative writing at The Open University commented on the high number who chose reading for pleasure saying:

“Immersing ourselves in a good book has been a really valuable way to relax and forget about the pressures brought on by the pandemic, especially in colder months when our time outdoors is restricted.

“Human beings are pattern-seeking animals, and in telling stories we are finding patterns in events. Lockdown has shown how vital narrative is to us, whether in the form of a physical book, an audio book or a box set on TV.

“At work too, narrative is important to us, in that it helps us to understand an issue if we think of it in terms of cause and effect. Narratives are particular and specific, and we often remember stories more easily than abstract ideas. If you want to communicate with an audience, tell them a story.”

The OU’s free learning platform OpenLearn mirrors the survey findings. It has seen interest rocket for its creative learning free courses on its platform in 2020. Visitor numbers soared for free courses such like Exploring Books for Children Creative Writing and Critical Reading. Learning languages was also very popular as well as more unusual free courses such as ones in dance skills, art history, the business of film and an introduction to music theory.

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