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50+ CEOs and L&D experts find the professional learning market ripe for innovation due to pandemic wake-up call

Emerge Education and FutureLearn launch new industry report exploring the future of workforce development


The Learning and Development (L&D) sector has reached a critical stage; with four key areas open for disruption and emerging new innovators, according to a new green paper launched by Emerge Education, the only VC fund backed by the world’s leading education entrepreneurs, and, the leading social learning platform.

The Future of Workforce Development’ explores the changing nature of work and workforce development, the shift of L&D departments’ focus from learning and content to performance and outcomes, and identifies the five emerging workforce development trends that will provide fresh opportunities for innovation within the sector. These trends include:

  • Adopting technology and online learning 
  • Learning in the flow of life (lifelong learning)
  • Using data and AI for personalising individual learning pathways
  • Encouraging internal coaching, mentoring and management 
  • The changing role of the L&D department to become more integrated within the wider business

Nic Newman, Partner at Emerge Education, said: “The traditional approach to corporate training was broken long before the pandemic arrived with the majority of spend not delivering the intended results. The current situation has forced companies to innovate their capability-building approach rapidly and bring the ‘future forward’. Corporate leaders are now demanding a new kind of capability building that works in today’s virtual environments and focuses not simply on learning but also on achieving behavioural change – the focus on up-skilling and reskilling has become a C-suite strategic imperative.”

Based on research, case studies, and expert insights from over 50 business leaders in a range of organisations – including the CBI, The Institute of Directors, Amazon Web Services, OpenClassrooms, Samsung and Jaguar Land Rover – the four key recommendations on where technological innovation can make an impact on workforce development, for L&D practitioners, organisations, policymakers and startup founders, include: Skills Assessment, Career Pathways, Collaborative Learning, and Tailored Learning. 

Justin Cooke, Chief Content and Partnerships Officer at FutureLearn, said: “Professional development is evolving quicker than ever before, and there’s a more urgent need for it now, with the fast pace of technological change creating high demand for entirely new skillsets and more flexible, boundaryless workforces. In terms of innovation in the L&D sector, we’ve already seen how much of an impact online learning has made over the past decade, but in some areas we’ve barely scratched the surface. There remains plenty more space for new edtech solutions to help fill the gaps identified in this green paper, enabling a more integrated, personalised and lifelong approach to building the workforce of the future.”

The green paper has landed at a time when L&D and upskilling and reskilling opportunities are becoming increasingly important to both industry and government, with the latest research showing 64% of L&D leaders see reskilling as more of a priority and an almost 160% increase in CEOs championing L&D more. Professionals are also harnessing the importance of upskilling opportunities, with 40% of UK adults likely to take an online course within the next five years to grow their skill set and get ahead in their career, according to FutureLearn’s The Future of Learning 2021 report.

Catalina Schveninger, Chief People Officer at FutureLearn, said: “It’s exciting to see learning and development rising in prominence as a core business function. In the current climate, providing opportunities for employees to strengthen and deepen their skillsets, or perhaps reskill for internal roles as well as external ones, are more important than ever as building employability is a sign of corporate sustainability. One of the green paper’s key findings centres around the importance of ensuring L&D professionals themselves are also fully equipped to evolve with their more integrated roles, and are able to use new technologies and data in more effective ways. There are gaps in the market for innovations to come to the fore here and I’m looking forward to seeing the fantastic new fit-for-purpose solutions that emerge in this space.”

Donald Taylor, chair of the LPI, said: “We are at a pivotal moment for workplace L&D. As work becomes less fixed to roles, organisations and places, so the traditional approach of providing courses linked to jobs has shrunk in value. At the same time, what people can do, and the way they behave, is now a key differentiator between organisations. L&D should aim to be core to how organisations succeed. This paper spells out some key ways in which it can be just that, as well as guidance for edtech founders looking to support this.”

Rob Peacock, Head of Learning and Development at Samsung Electronics, said: “There’s a big move towards learning for life, not just for work. It’s a shift away from learning to improve competencies so you can be who your business needs you to be and towards purpose-led learning that unlocks the potential in us all. We need to provide learning in the flow of life, not just the flow of work. Learning technologies have helped us connect the learning with the flow, just like digital marketeers have been so adept at doing.”

You can download the full report at


Notes to editors


About Emerge Education

Emerge is a European seed fund that partners with founders who are bridging the gap between talent and opportunity. We are the only fund backed by the world’s foremost education entrepreneurs. We invest at the earliest stages and connect founders with insights from a global community of education leaders that have built some of the fastest growing education providers in the world. This community includes C-level executives in UK Higher Education and Corporate Learning that help our founders go to market faster. Read about our thesis-driven investment strategy and what we believe about the future of education in our manifesto


About FutureLearn

Here at FutureLearn, our purpose is to transform access to education. We do that by partnering with over a quarter of the world’s top universities to support millions of learners across the globe to develop skills and achieve their personal and professional goals. We’re a leading social learning platform founded in December 2012 by The Open University and are now jointly owned by The Open University in the UK and The SEEK Group. We use design, technology and partnerships to create enjoyable, credible and flexible short online courses and microcredentials, as well as undergraduate and postgraduate degrees. In addition to top universities, we also partner with leading organisations such as Accenture, the British Council, CIPD, Raspberry Pi and Health Education England (HEE), as well as being involved in government-backed initiatives to address skills gaps such as The Institute of Coding and the National Centre for Computing Education.


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