The Future of Learning

Executive Summary

A thirst for knowledge and skills fit for a new working world: these are learners’ leading requirements of education as we rebuild following the pandemic. In this report, FutureLearn analyses insights from our dual surveys of learners and business leaders. We uncover the education motivations, attitudes and behaviours of 2,000 people and more than 500 employers based in the UK. To add to their voices, we’ve interviewed ten top academics and education sector experts for their take on the trends that are set to shape learning delivery for decades to come.

Readers will discover detail on:
• How people learn
• Post-pandemic learning
• Skills fit for the futureAt present, people from different generations, social and ethnic groups feel multiple barriers
to learning are blocking the best education experiences, from course affordability to race issues – and experts see technology as a critical tool to turn around perceptions and deliver best-in-class learning.

Key findings

Flexibility is key

People have different preferences when it comes to how they like to learn. More than a quarter (26%)
want to do so in a way that fits into their own schedule.

Tackling sensitive subjects

Educational experts are intrigued that respondents name mental health education as the subject
they’d most like to learn online (16%). Those aged 55 and over are the least likely to prefer mental health
education online (11%) but this method is most popular among 35- to 44-year-olds (22%).

More diversity in the classroom and workplace

While diversity was already becoming a key issue in all walks of life prior to the pandemic,
it’s now front-of-mind for many learners. Race is a hot topic overall. Nearly three in ten (29%) respondents state it negatively impacts on individuals’ education experiences. The figure is higher (35%) among Asian respondents – 29% of White people surveyed agree, as do a quarter (25%) of Black respondents.

Completing the curriculum

The pandemic threw greater focus not only on how people want to learn in future, but also the core skills they will need to meet emerging challenges. Personal finance skills and a better understanding of mental
health issues are two examples of focus areas that learners and businesses alike think should appear
in the national curriculum. Which topics do consumers feel are missing from the national curriculum?
Everyday financial management (39%), mental health (39%), and home skills – e.g. cooking, cleaning
and parenthood (35%) – ranked highest. Women (43%) more than men (37%) want financial management courses.

Online courses are the top way to gain new skills to start a business

The growth of the gig economy shows no signs of slowing. Of those respondents who have changed jobs
as a result of the pandemic, 4% are now self-employed. A further 5% who say they’ve not yet started a new job would like to become self-employed – meaning almost one in ten people have either started, or want to try, self-employment.

Mental health matters
NHS leaders in England warn of a “wave of mental health issues”¹ following the pandemic. Learners
are keen to access a greater understanding of these issues, as they’re already affecting many people’s personal and professional lives.

Technological innovations
An even greater reliance on technology was another major consequence of the pandemic. From an overnight switch to remote working to the need to shop online, more of us than ever before reached
for our devices.

Skills fit for the future

With so many people changing careers as a result of the pandemic, there’s an inevitable need for
employees and employers to build new skills. Experts feel education is key to tackling the emerging skills gap and, in response to learner and business leader requirements, providers should
focus courses on:
• the rapidly changing need for new skills – including for jobs that weren’t even on the horizon a few years ago
• the move to a contingent workforce and the emergence of the gig economy
• the impact of automation on workers and how they can refocus or reskill for their careers


It’s an exciting time for the world of education. Things are changing fast post-pandemic, as
determined learners look to upskill in order to navigate the changing world of work, digital innovations build momentum, and issues like sustainability and diversity become increasingly pertinent. In great numbers, people are embracing nontraditional learning to address this new world – not least online courses, which are rapidly becoming the number one way to get new skills. This applies whether people want to succeed in their existing role, change career or start their own business. And they’re not satisfied with a one-off educational experience – lifelong learning is here to stay.

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