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An American view on The Future of Education

How do different regions in America think about online education and their personal and professional development?

At the end of a year that plunged the global population into a digital-first lifestyle, FutureLearn commissioned a global research piece, surveying adults in the UK, USA and Australia. We sought to better understand how attitudes towards education are changing as well as the education landscape itself, engendered by the COVID-19 pandemic. This post zooms into the American position on key themes within ‘The Future of Learning Report’. 

Americans see clear benefits to online learning

Many Americans see education as harnessing the power to achieve great things in the future. They were most optimistic that in the future education will have the power to increase innovation in medicine (48%). Those in the Northeast were most convinced by this (53%) compared to the least convinced in the Southwest (41%). Other key impacts on education in the future world were that it could develop technology to create sustainable communities (46%) and give people the opportunity to try different industries before committing to a career path (41%).

Furthermore, a number of Americans see benefits in online learning specifically. The most appreciated benefit is allowing people to learn at their own pace, which 55% of Americans are in agreement with overall, with each region having over 50% of respondents in agreement. The other top benefits are that online education is financially accessible (42%) and opening up high-quality education to those who are physically constrained (42%). The West are optimistic about the benefits with 59% agreeing that it allows people to learn at their own pace and only 10% not seeing any benefits to an online course. The West are also more likely than the Northeast (48%) to agree that online learning can provide similar levels of benefits to formal learning at 58% agreement. Other regions also show about half the respondents agreeing with this; 56% of Americans from the Southeast, 52% from both the Midwest and Southwest and finally the Northeast were least likely to agree at 48%. The West is significantly more likely than the total to believe it is physically accessible (44%) and that it helps people become an expert in a certain area (29%). Looking specifically at regions, it is significantly higher than the Midwest (19%) that online learning helps people become an expert in certain areas.

Additionally, respondents think that online learning is better for introverts (i.e., people who are shy or who prefer to avoid large groups of people) with 46% identifying this to be true and that it enables people to learn more targeted and specific skills and expertise at 42%. The Northeast agreed with both of these opinions at 50% and 45% respectively.

Wellness is important to Americans

When looking at the subject areas that participants would most like to get more knowledge on in the next five years, out of ten topics, Americans were most interested in ‘Nutrition/diet/physical health’ with 35% selecting this; it was the top choice for the West (42%). Following this, ‘Mental health and mindfulness’ was selected by a third (33%) of Americans were interested in and which was the top choice for the Midwest (33%) and Southwest (31%). The only region who were most interested in an alternative subject was the Southeast who selected ‘Managing personal finance’ with 36% agreement.

Most Americans say that a key result that could happen as a result of learning would be ‘My personal confidence could improve’, with 47% of respondents selecting this, which was also the top answer for the West with 51%. This trend is reflected on FutureLearn where courses such as ‘Mindfulness for Wellbeing and Peak Performance’ from Monash University have demonstrated popularity with Americans. The top answer was different for the other regions with the Southwest and the Midwest’s top results having a positive impact on their community (46% and 50% respectively), the Southeast to have a positive impact on the world (46%) and the Northeast to expand their hobbies or interests (51%).  

Using online courses to upskill

The majority of Americans’ careers have not been impacted by the pandemic (51%), although this was lower in the West where only 40% of those who were not yet retired were not affected. 13% of non-retired Americans did lose their job as a result of COVID-19, most prevalent in the Midwest at 16%. The world of online education did open up possibilities from the disruption, however, with 34% of Americans agreeing that the pandemic has made them more interested in taking an online course; retrospectively 36% of people in the West and 30% in the Midwest.

Almost half of the respondents (44%) agreed that they are likely to take an online course to further their careers in the next five years. This rose to 53% when looking at just the West and 34% in the Midwest. This compares to 40% of Americans agreeing that they were likely to take an online course for personal development rather than professional. When looking at starting their own business, from an online course, 33% of the West agreed compared to 22% of Midwest. Further, 25% of Americans said they were likely to take a course online to understand cultural issues.

Interestingly 17% responded ‘A lot’ to whether they would like to set up a business of their own within the next 10 years and 16% ‘A little’. 17% also said they would consider starting their own business in the next year, with 22% of the West stating this, compared to 13% of the Northeast. The most common barrier for those who would like to set up a business was lack of finances (55%) although this was the least problematic for those in the West (46%). The largest benefit of online learning in starting a business was that it would help with learning how to use new technologies (51%), followed by networking with more people globally (42%) and then increasing knowledge in social media marketing (42%). The West (49%), however, is significantly more likely to report that it will help them network globally compared to the Southwest (36%) and Southeast (39%).

Education platforms

Social media was an important source of education regarding key topics such as diversity and inclusion, environment and sustainability and social justice. Facebook was the top platform for education on diversity and inclusion (23%) and social justice (23%). This did vary between regions, for example, the Southwest educated themselves on diversity and inclusion through YouTube the most (24%) and the West on YouTube for social justice (26%). YouTube was the dominant platform for Americans for environment and sustainability (20%) which was aligned across the regions other than the Northeast which used Facebook more (22%).

Conclusion

The report clearly illustrates that education is viewed as a means to harness great power in future to achieve a variety of results from medical innovation to creating sustainable communities. Additionally, online education is increasing in visibility across the country, particularly driven by the pandemic, which over a third cited as having made them more interested in taking an online course. And finally, personal wellness is important to Americans, with the most popular subjects across all regions falling into mental, physical and financial health.

 

Specifically, in the United States, while the survey revealed an overall American sentiment across the following areas, data was further broken down by variances across the country’s national regions – Northeast (NE), Southeast (SE), Midwest (MW), Southwest (SW) and Northwest (NW).

 

Northeast American responses

In the Northeast, many Americans surveyed said:

  • In the future education will have the power to increase innovation in medicine (53%) and will be more accessible and better for people with disabilities (46%)
  • They would like to gain more knowledge in the next five years specifically in nutrition/diet and physical health (37%). Of those, they’d like to gain this knowledge to expand hobbies and interests (60%) and to improve personal confidence (58%)
  • Many agreed that online learning can provide similar levels of benefits to formal education, such as college or university (48%)
  • The plurality agreed that they are likely to take an online course within the next five years to develop themselves personally outside of their career (40%); however, the many strongly disagreed that they’d take an online course to start their own business (49%) or to better understand cultural issues (45%)
  • Two-fifths agreed that online learning allows more diversity and inclusion in the education sector (41%)
  • By 2030, a third agreed that Virtual Reality is a technology innovation they’d like to see in the online education space (34%)
  • Close to a quarter agreed that spending their personal time and money to learn additional skills for a job or career move would be something they’d consider for their career or education within the next year (23%)
  • As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, the majority that are not yet retired said that their career has not changed (56%); yet just over a third of all adults on the Northeast said the pandemic has made them more interested in taking an online learning course (35%)
  • The majority agrees that the top benefit of taking an online course is that it allows people to learn at their own pace (54%), and that it’s better for introverts (50%) and enables people to learn more targeted and specific skills (45%)
  • Close to two-fifths said they would not like to set up a new business of their own within the next 10 years (38%); of those who said they would, reported that not currently having the finances (51%) was a barrier to doing so  
  • Over half believe online learning will support people in setting up a business by helping to educate on how to use new technologies of the future (52%)
  • With 2020 being such an impactful year with movements such as Black Lives Matter, political elections and climate change, a quarter said that Facebook was their top social media platform to educate themselves on a range of areas (22% for environment and sustainability, 22% for social justice, 24% for diversity and inclusion). Close to half (47%) believe that creative skills are needed when starting your own business

 

Southeast American responses

In the Southeast, many Americans surveyed said:

  • Like Northeasterners, the many said that in the future education will have the power to increase innovation in medicine (45%) and will be more accessible and better for people with disabilities (44%)
  • They would like to gain more knowledge in the next five years specifically in mental health and mindfulness (35%). Of those, they’d like to gain this knowledge to improve personal confidence (65%), have a positive impact on the world (64%) and expand hobbies (54%)
  • A greater majority than the Southeast agreed that online learning can provide similar levels of benefits to formal education, such as college or university (56%)
  • Many also agreed that they are likely to take an online course within the next five years to develop themselves personally outside of their career (38%) and the majority, like in the Northeast, strongly disagreed that they’d take an online course to start their own business (44%) or to better understand cultural issues (44%)
  • Close to half agreed that online learning allows more diversity and inclusion in the education sector (46%)
  • By 2030, the many also agreed that Virtual Reality is a technology innovation they’d like to see in the online education space (36%)
  • By 2030, of those who are currently working, the same proportion as the Northeast agreed they will continue working in the same industry as they are today (36%)
  • Three in ten agreed that spending their personal time and money to learn additional skills for a job or career move would be something they’d consider for their career or education within the next year (29%)
  • As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, like the Northeast the majority who are not yet retired said that their career has not changed (51%); yet a third of all adults in the Southeast said the pandemic has made them more interested in taking an online learning course (33%)
  • The majority agrees that the top benefit of taking an online course is that it allows people to learn at their own pace (56%), and that it’s better for introverts (44%) and enables people to learn more targeted and specific skills (42%)
  • Like their Northeastern counterparts, over a third said they would not like at all to set up a new business of their own within the next 10 years (36%). For those who are interested, 6 in 10 said not currently having the finances do so is a barrier (61%)
  • Half of all adults in the Southeast believe online learning will support people in setting up a business by helping educate on how to use new technologies of the future (50%)
  • With 2020 being such an impactful year with movements such as Black Lives Matter, political elections and climate change, the majority said that Facebook was their top social media platform to educate themselves on a range of issues (23% for social justice and diversity and inclusion)
  • Close to half (49%) said that creative skills are needed when starting your own business

 

Midwest American responses

In the Midwest, many Americans surveyed said:

  • Like both Northeasterners and Southeasterners, many said that in the future education will have the power to equally increase innovation in medicine (47%) and develop technology to create sustainable communities (47%); and the majority agreed that will be more accessible and better for people with disabilities (50%)
  • Like in the Southeast, Midwesterners would like to gain more knowledge in the next five years specifically in mental health and mindfulness (33%). Of those, they’d like to gain more knowledge to have a positive impact on the community (68%), have a positive impact on the world (65%), and improve personal confidence (59%) 
  • Similar to the Eastern Seaboard, a majority agreed that online learning can provide similar levels of benefits to formal education, such as college or university (52%); however, unlike the East, the majority of Midwesterners disagreed that they were to take an online course within the next five years to develop themselves personally outside of their career (39%) and the majority disagreed that they’d take an online course to start their own business (61%) or to better understand cultural issues (51%)
  • Like the East, the majority agreed that online learning allows more diversity and inclusion in the education sector (40%)
  • By 2030, the many also agreed that Virtual Reality is a technology innovation they’d like to see in the online education space (41%)
  • By 2030, the same proportion as the North and Southeast, over a third of those who currently work agreed they will continue working in the same industry as they are today (36%)
  • A fifth stated that spending their personal time and money to learn additional skills for a job or career move would be something they’d consider for their career or education within the next year (22%)
  • As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, the majority of those who aren’t yet retired said that their career has not changed (54%); however, 16% reported they lost their job unlike the Northeast and Southeast 
  • Three in ten said the pandemic has made them more interested in taking an online learning course (30%)
  • The majority agrees that the top benefit of taking an online course is that it allows people to learn at their own pace (56%), and that it’s better for introverts (49%) and interestingly said the privacy it provides enables people to feel more confident to learn about subjects they wouldn’t usually feel comfortable taking (44%)
  • Even more so than their Eastern counterparts, the majority said they would not like at all to set up a new business of their own within the next 10 years (50%). Of those who are interested, nearly two-thirds stated the not currently having the finances do so is a barrier (63%) 
  • Half of all Midwesterners believe online learning will support people in setting up a business by helping educate on how to use new technologies of the future (50%)
  • With 2020 being such an impactful year with movements such as Black Lives Matter, political elections and climate change, the majority said that Facebook and YouTube were their top social media platform to educate themselves. 18% used Facebook to educate themselves on diversity and inclusion, 16% used YouTube to educate themselves on the environment and sustainability and 21% used Facebook to educate themselves on social justice.
  • Over half (52%) said that creative skills are needed when starting your own business or in media and marketing (52%)

 

Southwest American responses

In the Southwest, the majority of Americans surveyed said:

  • Unlike the Northeast, Southeast and Mideast, the majority of Southwesterners said that in the future education will have the power to equally develop technology to create sustainable communities (50%) and many believe it will use more inclusive teaching methods (45%)
  • Like in the Northeast, Southwesterners would like to gain more knowledge in the next five years specifically in both nutrition/diet and physical health (31%) and like in the Southeast and Midwest, mental health and mindfulness (31%) equally
  • Of those wanting greater knowledge in physical health, it was to have a positive impact on their community (65%), have a positive impact on the world (61%) and improve personal confidence (61%)
  • Of those wanting greater knowledge in mental health, it was to improve personal confidence (61%), improve personal relationships (59%), and have a positive impact on the world (57%)
  • Similar to the other regions above, a majority agreed that online learning can provide similar levels of benefits to formal education, such as college or university (52%), and also agreed that they are likely to take an online course within the next five years to develop themselves personally outside of their career (41%)
  • Like the other regions above, many disagreed that they’d take an online course to start their own business (44%) or to better understand cultural issues (40%)
  • Like the other regions above, the nearly half agreed that online learning allows more diversity and inclusion in the education sector (46%)
  • By 2030, the many also agreed that Virtual Reality is a technology innovation they’d like to see in the online education space (40%)
  • Unlike the other regions above, by 2030, many of those who currently work disagreed that they would continue working in the same industry as they are today (27%)
  • Like the regions above, a quarter agreed that spending their personal time and money to learn additional skills for a job or career move would be something they’d consider for their career or education within the next year (25%)
  • As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, similarly, the majority of those who aren’t currently retired said that their career has not changed (50%); yet one in ten reported they lost their job like in the Midwest (12%). As a result of the pandemic, Southwesterners said they are more interested in taking an online learning course (35%)
  • The majority agrees that the top benefit of taking an online course is that it allows people to learn at their own pace (51%) and that it’s better for introverts (41%); and like the North and Southeast, it also enables people to learn more targeted and specific skills (40%); and like the Midwest said the privacy it provides enables people to feel more confident to learn about subjects they wouldn’t usually feel comfortable taking (40%)
  • Like the other regions above, the majority said they would not like at all to be set up a new business of their own within the next 10 years (37%)
  • Many Southwesterners believe online learning will support people in setting up a business by helping educate on how to use new technologies of the future (46%)
  • With 2020 being such an impactful year with movements such as Black Lives Matter, political elections and climate change, the majority said that YouTube was their top social media platform to educate themselves 23% for environment and sustainability, 22% for social justice 24% for diversity and inclusion) 
  • Close to half (48%) said that creative skills are needed when starting your own business 

 

Northwest American responses

In the Northwest, many Americans surveyed said:

  • Like the Midwest and Southwest, the majority of Northwesterners said that in the future education will have the power to equally develop technology to create sustainable communities (50%)
  • The Northeast, Southeast and Midwest said that in the future education will be more accessible and better for people with disabilities (50%)
  • Like in the Northeast and Southwest, the many would like to gain more knowledge in the next five years specifically in both nutrition/diet and physical health (42%). As a result of gaining this knowledge, Northwesterners stated that they would like to improve personal confidence (62%) and have a positive impact on the community and the world (56%)
  • Similar to the other regions, a majority agreed that online learning can provide similar levels of benefits to formal education, such as college or university (58%), and many also agreed that they are likely to take an online course within the next five years to develop themselves personally outside of their career (44%).
  • Like the other regions, the two fifths also disagreed that they’d take an online course to start their own business (40%) or to better understand cultural issues (45%)
  • Like the other regions, the majority agreed that online learning allows more diversity and inclusion in the education sector (53%)
  • By 2030, Northwesterners were most likely to identify Virtual Reality as a technology innovation they’d like to see in the online education space (38%)
  • Like other regions except for the Southwest, by 2030, the many Northwesterners who currently work agreed that they will continue working in the same industry as they are today (42%)
  • Like the other regions, three in ten stated that spending their personal time and money to learn additional skills for a job or career move would be something they’d consider for their career or education within the next year (31%)
  • As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, similarly many Northwesterners who aren’t yet retired said that their career has not changed (40%); yet a fifth (20%) reported they re-evaluated their career paths like those in the Northeast and Southeast. As a result of the pandemic, over a third agreed that as a result, they are more interested in taking an online learning course (36%)
  • The majority agrees that the top benefit of taking an online course is that it allows people to learn at their own pace (59%) and that it’s better for introverts (46%); and like the North and Southeast, it also enables people to learn more targeted and specific skills (45%); and agreed it increases self-esteem as you can learn at your own pace and comfort (45%)
  • Like the other regions above, many said they would not like at all to set up a new business of their own within the next 10 years (37%). Those who would like to most commonly identified not having the finances to do so as the top barrier (46%)
  • The majority of Northwesterners believe online learning will support people in setting up a business by helping to educate on how to use new technologies of the future (54%)
  • With 2020 being such an impactful year with movements such as Black Lives Matter, political elections and climate change, Northwesterners were most likely to identify Facebook and YouTube as their top social media platform to educate themselves 29% used Facebook to educate themselves on diversity and inclusion, 24% used YouTube to educate themselves on the environment and sustainability and 26% used YouTube to educate themselves on social justice.
  • Over half (53%) said that creative skills are needed when starting your own business 

 

All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from YouGov Plc. Total sample size was 1182 US adults. Fieldwork was undertaken between 2nd – 7th December 2020. The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all US adults (aged 18+).

 

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