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Over 50s embracing technology for education during pandemic, Research Reveals

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A new study by leading adult education charity, The WEA (@WEAadulted), showed that the pandemic spurred over 50’s to upgrade their technological as well as educational skills. It reveals that  83% of this generation reported on having no or moderate experience using virtual learning prior to the pandemic but are now embracing technology for learning with over half studying history and culture courses.

The survey results out today, gathered responses from 1,495 WEA online learners across 50+ students in England and Scotland to determine their views and preferences regarding virtual learning

The research reveals that an incredible 58% chose history and culture courses to study during the pandemic, followed by 16% arts and crafts, 8% languages and writing, 5% health and lifestyle and 5% for natural and social science. Learning can be addictive and a third of over 50s (33%) embraced this opportunity to learn through lockdown by completing 5 or more courses.

Of those studied history and culture, the top 3 most popular courses were History (45%), Art Appreciation (21%), Literature (20%).

Motivations and benefits

The research found there were some significant health benefits associated to online learning, as nearly two thirds (63%) per cent of respondents said  it helped improve their mental wellbeing, 44% said it was a great support during lockdown and 30% said it enabled them to connect with others.

Identifying other top reasons why the over 50s took up online learning, the ability to do any course regardless of location and tutor was the paramount for over two-thirds (66%), whilst increased variety for learning opportunities (54%), more flexibility with when and where to learn (49%) and saving money (45%) were cited as other key motivations.

Future learning

When asked about the future learning experiences, 39% of students wanted a blended model of learning (venue-based and virtual), whilst over a quarter (27%) would prefer to learn online. However 28% still preferred venue-based teaching.

Looking at the courses the over 50s would like to study in the future history came top of the lists 54%, followed by art appreciation 47%, literature 36%, architecture 25% , archeology 23%, politics 21%, philosophy 21%.

Simon Parkinson, CEO of The WEA said:

“The pandemic has accelerated the use of online learning for the over 50s whether to pursue an interest, broaden horizons, unlock creativity or simply for fun.  As a charity we are focused on engaging adults to value their personal development throughout their lives and ensure we teach how our learners want to learn.  So in the foreseeable future we will continue with our digital offer as I believe venue-based learning and online go hand in hand.”

Research Methodology: The research has been conducted by The WEA Research Unit which presents findings from 1,495 adult learners who were surveyed between March  and April 2021 from across England and Scotland, who responded to questions on their online learning experience with the WEA. The data was gathered using a quantitative online survey and unequal probabilities of selection in the sample and non-response were accounted for. Thus the sample was representative of the entire WEA student population within a margin of error of 1.2 percent.

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