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An Australian view on The Future of Education

How do different regions in Australia 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 Australian position on key themes within ‘The Future of Learning Report’. 

Australians feel positive about learning and see the benefits of online learning

Our research showed attitudes towards online education in Australia are generally positive. 61% of those surveyed believe that, in the future, education will give rise to technology that creates sustainable communities. Those within the TAS-VIC region are the most optimistic at 65%, while Western Australians are the least optimistic at 54%. 

At an individual level, 49% of Australians believe that education in the future will allow people to try different industries before committing to a career path. Those within the TAS-VIC region are the most optimistic about this at 56%, while the QLD population is the least optimistic at 43%. Nonetheless, these are still large percentages of the population who believe that education is a powerful tool towards a more sustainable and flexible future. This is further supported by 54% of Australians who believe ‘in the future, education will be easier to access globally’. This time, those within NT-SA are the most hopeful at 57% with WA the least at 50%. 

Looking towards education in the future, 57% of Australians believe it will be delivered digitally, with a 15 percentage point gap between NT-SA and WA – 62% of NT-SA survey respondents agree with this while just 47% WAs do. Generally, it’s clear Australians feel positive about the beneficial impact of online learning. Indeed, 55% of them agree that ‘online learning allows more diversity and inclusion in the education sector’.

Regarding the benefits of online learning, the largest percentage of Australians surveyed (57%) agree that people learning at their own pace was the biggest benefit. QLD respondents were the most invested in this at 62%, and while ACT-NSW were the least invested, they were still pretty invested at 54%. This was followed by it being financially accessible (48%), with the region most in agreement being NT-SA (52%) and WA being the region least in agreement with just 38% of WAs agreeing. Additionally, NT-SA respondents were also the most likely to agree that online education could provide similar levels of benefits to formal education at 67%. 62% of respondents from QLD agreed or strongly agreed, 58% of respondents from WA or TAS-VIC agreed or strongly agreed, and lastly, 57% of those from ACT-NSW agreed or strongly agreed. Finally, opening up high-quality education to people who are physically constrained in Australia (45%). 

Australians value personal development

When it comes to their own learning, Australians seem more interested in personal development. Out of ten topics, Australians were most interested in ‘mental health and mindfulness’, with 39% of them agreeing they would like to learn more about this subject within the next 5 years. 42% TAS-VIC respondents indicated their interest, while those in WA were the least likely (34%). Still, at 34% ‘mental health and mindfulness’ was the topic of most interest to WAs citizens. The next most interesting topic was ‘nutrition/diet /physical health’ with 36% of Australians agreeing they’d like to gain knowledge in this space between now and 2025. There seems to be a trend towards interest in health and wellness among Australians. It’s also reflected in some of FutureLearn’s most popular courses among Aussies being ‘Mindfulness for Wellbeing and Peak Performance’ and ‘Food as Medicine’ both from Monash University. Other popular subjects Australians indicated they wanted to learn about include ‘personal finance’ at 34% across the country, with the Tas-Vic region leading in enthusiasm once again at 40% and NT-SA least interested at 25%. Finally, 30% of Australians also wanted to learn about ‘how to be a conscientious citizen of the world’, this time with ACT-NSW most interested at 35% and WAs least interested at 20%. 

Indeed, when asked what could happen as a result of choosing the above topics, 51% answered that their personal confidence could improve. This was slightly higher among ACT-NSWs at 52% than the NT-SA region at 46%. The next top results were expanding hobbies/interests at 49%, followed by having a positive impact on the community at 46%. Relatedly, most Australians cite passions changing over time and this leading the individual to want to change their career (36%), as the reason they don’t believe they will be in the same industry in 2030 as the one they are working in today, with which 25% of Australians agree. This is as high as 30% in WA, dropping to just 24% in the lowest regions TAS-VIC.

Using online courses to upskill

When asked whether they would take an online course to grow their skillsets for their own career advancement, almost half of respondents who are not retired agreed (49%). This rose to 51% for those from TAS-VIC and dropped to 41% amongst those in NT-SA. 43% of Australians agreed that they were likely to take an online course for their personal development over the next 5 years, with 47% of those within the TAS-VIC region as the highest, compared to 35% of those within the NT-SA region. Interestingly, fewer Australians were likely to take an online course to understand cultural issues (27%) than to start their own business (32%). The region most likely to take an online course with an eye to launching their own business was ACT-NSW (34%), while the least likely was NT-SA (25%). Conversely, the region most likely to take an online course to understand cultural issues was NT-SA (31%), while the least likely was QLD (21%). 

In fact, when it came to starting their own business, 21% who are not retired said they would consider starting their own business in the next year, with ACT-NSW or TAS-VIC (22%) being the most likely to, and (NT-SA) or WA (19%) being the least likely to albeit just by a few percentage points. When asked how online learning could support people in setting up their own business, 54% of Australians agreed ‘it will help with learning how to use new technologies’. Three in ten (31%) Australians who are not retired were likely to spend personal time/money on learning additional skills for a job/career move over the next year. The most likely region to do so was TAS-VIC (35%), while a quarter (26%) of NT-SA said they would.. 

COVID-19 and online learning

When it came to COVID, most careers of Australians who are not retired were not impacted (56%). The most likely Australians to have reevaluated their career path as a result of the pandemic were those from TAS-VIC (18%), while the least likely were NT-SA (7%). 35% agree that the pandemic has made them more interested in taking an online course, with those from TAS-VIC most in agreement (40%) and those from QLD or WA least in agreement (30%). 

Regarding key themes and self-education in topics such as diversity and inclusion, gender history, BLM, LGBTQ+ rights etc, social media was a key source of education. 21% used Facebook to educate, with those in the NT-SA region most likely to use it at 28% and those within WA least likely to use it at 16%. YouTube was a close second with 20% opting for the video platform to self-educate with 25% of those from the NT-SA region using it and 13% of WAs. On the theme of environment and sustainability, Australians were more likely to use YouTube (24%), followed by Facebook (21%), then Instagram (13%). Facebook was the most common platform used to learn about social justice issues (23%), followed by YouTube (20%), and Instagram (12%). The region most likely to use TikTok for learning consistently was NTA-SA at 8% (for diversity and inclusion), 11% (for environment and sustainability) and 11% (for social justice). NTA-SA was also the region most likely to use Twitter. All in all, it was the region most likely to use Twitter to self-educate on environment and sustainability and social justice, when compared to WA. 

Looking at the results for Australia, we can reach four main conclusions. First, Australians are optimistic about the potential of education to improve society. More than half believe it will allow us to build more sustainable and flexible futures. Second, Australians value their personal development, which includes being interested in topics such as mental and physical health. Finally, we might see more Australians taking online courses to benefit their careers this year, since almost half indicated they might pursue an online course in the short term to improve their professional skills. 


All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from YouGov Plc. Total sample size was 1040 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 Australian adults (aged 18+).

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