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New significant global study reveals COVID-19 has propelled next generation to focus on social issues amid online learning boom


  • Global learning platform FutureLearn publishes in-depth study, of the UK, USA and Australia, including 15 industry expert insights and YouGov data, into the Future of Learning and how COVID-19 has fundamentally changed the learning landscape 
  • Four core themes from the report were revealed including: women and learning, generational distinctions, access and inclusion and self-education, and personal and professional development 
  • Diversity and inclusion issues are overcome by online learning and spaces that ‘don’t set up prejudices in advance’ says Diana Laurillard, Professor of Learning with Digital Technologies at UCL


Published 22nd February 2021, the Future of Learning report features commentary from 15 culture, technology, education and learning experts and includes insight from the UK, Australia and the USA. The study reveals ten key global trends in learning* including; women believing that education has the power to make the world a better place, real progress is being made around the inclusivity and accessibility of learning, the younger generation is accelerating change in education with online learning increasing, and ‘jobs for life’ are rapidly on the decline. 


The Future of Learning report explored four core themes for learning development

  • Women and learning
  • Generational distinctions
  • Access and inclusion and self-education
  • Personal and professional development


Key take outs from the themes include over a third of women believe that in the future, education will empower people to solve the world’s biggest issues such as the climate crisis, environmental and corporate sustainability, human rights and access to justice (38%). Millennials (22%) and nearly two in five of Gen Z (37%), are turning to social media platforms such as Instagram to self-educate on socio-political issues. Younger generations are driving a change towards online learning, with over a fifth (21%) of millennials strongly agreeing that it can provide similar benefits to a traditional form of education. Almost half of the population (49%) think, in the future, education will have better access for disabled people. 




Almost half of people globally (49%) think education will be more accessible and better for people with disabilities. In response to this, Josie Fraser, Deputy Vice-Chancellor at The Open University, said that we have to solve and tackle digital poverty’ in order to see the benefits.


Online learning is better for introverts according to 48% of those surveyed. Just over two in five (43%) feel online learning enables people to feel more confident to learn about the subjects they wouldn’t usually feel comfortable taking because of the privacy it provides. This is especially so for those from minority backgrounds as online spaces ‘don’t set up prejudices in advance’ says Diana Laurillard, Professor of Learning with Digital Technologies at UCL who took part in the report. Dylan Williams, Chief Strategy Officer at Droga 5 also commented that “there is an opportunity for us to better educate everybody in a more sensitive way, understanding how different people innately think and advancing different approaches accordingly”.



In the UK, women are more likely to agree that online learning allows for more diversity and inclusion in the education sector (47% vs men at 41%). More women are choosing to ‘study traditionally male-dominated sectors, such as engineering, pharmacy and accounting due to online accessibility’ claims Ranata Hughes, Educator at Florida A&M University. In parallel to this research, tech and coding courses on FutureLearn are surging with female learners, 350% more people took a FutureLearn tech and coding course in 2020, compared to 2019, and driving the trend is women who make up 54% of those learners. 


Women believe education will be directly empowering people to solve the world’s biggest issues such as the climate crisis, environmental and corporate sustainability, human rights and access to justice in the future (38%). As well as believing education can help the world, women feel it can better help their wellbeing; 35% of women globally want to learn more about nutrition, diet and physical health, while 38% want to expand their knowledge on mental health and mindfulness. Improving personal  confidence (52%) and expanding their interests as well as hobbies (46%) also featured highly as motivations to learn.



The Black Lives Matter Movement, LGBTQ+ rights and the gender pay gap are important political issues in society. Over a quarter of Millennials (22%) and nearly two in five Gen-Zs (37%), are turning to social media platforms such as Instagram to self-educate on these matters. 


Nearly a quarter of people globally (23%) would like to see education features on social media platforms in the future for learning; much like what is already offered through the shop tab feature on Instagram, the ‘marketplace’ function on Facebook, and ‘Topics’ feature on Twitter. With over two-fifths of the global population citing having a positive impact on their community (41%) or the world (41%) as a result of learning more about certain subject areas, there is ongoing enthusiasm to learn about important topics such as politics, human rights and career development. 


As well as being more socially conscious, the world is becoming more environmentally aware. The likes of Greta Thunberg will be pleased to know that nearly two-fifths of people globally (37%) think future education will empower people to solve the world’s biggest issues such as the climate crisis and environmental and corporate sustainability, human rights and access to justice. 



Millennials are driving the change for online learning with over one in five (21%) strongly agreeing that it can provide similar benefits to a traditional education, slightly higher than Generation Z (18%). Online learning has increased in popularity because ‘Covid-19 has been the catalyst to digitalisation of the education sector’ says Dean Patricia Davidson, School of Nursing, John Hopkins.


In the next five years, those in Australia (43%) and the USA (40%) are more likely than Brits (33%) to take an online course to expand their knowledge for personal development as people’s priorities shift when looking at the impact of the pandemic. 


Looking past personal development and into careers, roughly a third (32%) of people surveyed feel they do not currently have the skills needed to set up a business in the next 10 years. A quarter of Australians (25%) followed by 20% of Americans and 21% of Brits, would prefer to work in a different industry altogether in 2030. Interestingly, according to SEEK, Australian jobs platform and co-investor in FutureLearn, information and communication technology, including jobs such as developer, DevOps engineer and software engineer, 72% of jobseekers who had at least one job in the last two years held 5-10 jobs every five years, illustrating the ‘job for life’ is becoming or may now have already become a thing of the past for most people. 


“Online learning grew in popularity during the pandemic and is set to continue doing so as technology advances. The current advancement in technology means that the population expects bigger and better tech, such as virtual reality by 2030. We explore the latest technological innovations but they must be provided within universal access to learning; ensuring their utilisation is integrated with our understanding of the issues that impact our world today, as evident by the proportion of people wanting to learn about environmental issues, inclusivity and diversity” said Matt Jenner, Director of Learning at FutureLearn



Throughout the report, there is a lot of excitement and expectation around the future of learning from both experts and the public. There was clear agreement among the experts interviewed that in the future, linear pathways of learning, should and would be replaced by lifelong learning. 


There was also broad agreement that learning in the future should and would be more personalised, whether that was because of expectations of students who are used to personalisation in many other aspects of their lives, or because of the need to personalise learning for people who are neurodiverse. 


Many thought that technology would be able to help with personalised learning. For example, by giving teachers the opportunity to use virtual reality and AI as part of their teaching. The sentiment was that technology could support the educator rather than replace them. The public were also interested in technology innovations with 36% of respondents stating they would like to learn through the means of virtual reality, closely followed by augmented reality. 


While the experts were excited about the role technology could play in the future of learning, this excitement also came with a warning with many experts highlighting that not everyone has access to even basic technology and that as both the education sector, and technology companies, we needed to be careful that technology did not widen the existing digital divide but instead, work to close it so everyone has the same opportunities. 


As people across the globe are hungry to keep learning and developing themselves personally and professionally, FutureLearn has just launched ExpertTracks, a new digital product designed to give individuals flexible, subscription-based access to in-demand skills, on-demand for career and personal development. 


“FutureLearn’s newly launched product, ExpertTracks, aims to meet learner demand for topics that not only explore social issues but subjects that will give them a competitive edge in their career’, says Matt Jenner, Director of Learning at FutureLearn.


The full report will be available to view on 22nd February 2021 here.


For further information or press materials, please contact

@FutureLearn #ThisIsFutureLearning


Notes to Editors


*Top ten predicted global trends by 2030. Uncovered by FutureLearn’s ‘Future of Learning’ report, using third party quantitative research, qualitative research and SEEK data. These trends are measured from the data about how people globally want to educate themselves and how they foresee achieving them. 


1 – Women trust education

Women are statistically more likely to take an online course than men, and more women believe that education has the power to make the world a better place. 


2 –  Brits falling behind

People in the UK are shown to be falling behind their American and Australian counterparts in both the adoption of online learning and positive attitudes towards it.


3 – Gen Z leads the charge

Younger generations show the most interest in online learning, as well as the greatest trust and belief in the power of education to have a positive impact on our world.


4 – Inclusivity is on the up

As well as excitement and optimism around inclusive learning from those surveyed, there’s real progress being made by experts in the field towards making education more accessible and inclusive. 


5 – Young people mobilising on social media

Young people trust in and use social media platforms to educate themselves and learn the latest on current affairs and political movements like Black Lives Matter and LGBTQIA+ rights. 


6 – Online is the new normal

The data shows that online learning is becoming the norm, and experts agree that although digital and remote learning has been accelerated by COVID-19, its popularity is here to stay. 


7 – Professionals want a career boost

Online learning is particularly valuable for those ‘locked out’ of opportunities due to poor qualifications. People are likely to take an online course within the next five years to get ahead at work.


8 – No more ‘jobs for life’

People expect to change jobs and even industries throughout their career. This has become a trend rather than a specific skills gap and has been heightened by the jobs landscape post-COVID-19.  


9 – Wider range of qualifications accepted

There is now a wider acceptance of different types of qualifications such as microcredentials due to current formal qualifications not matching industry expectations and skills demand. 


10 – Self-development sweeps the board 


Across all countries, people show the most interest in developing their knowledge around mental health and mindfulness over the next five years. This is followed by nutrition, diet, and physical health. 





Fieldwork was carried out amongst nationally representative samples of adults aged 18+ in the UK, The USA and Australia between the 2nd and 7th December 2020. The survey was conducted online using YouGov’s online research panel and the results were weighted to be representative of the countries’ adult populations.


The sample sizes were 2,200 adults in the UK, 1,182 adults in The USA and 1,040 adults in Australia. Findings for individual countries are representative by age, gender and region, as well as socio-economic status in the UK. Combined data from the three countries is not representative of the global population. 


Throughout the report, references are made to Millennials and Generation Z. For the purposes of this analysis, Millennials have been defined as those born between 1981 and 1996, and Generation Z as those born from 1997 onwards. 


Analysis by age and gender is conducted at the total sample level, based on the combined data from the UK, The USA and Australia. 



The data provided that relates to FutureLearn is based on the company’s internal data looking at volumes of learners on the platform and what subject categories they are studying. Any gender specific data from FutureLearn is based on information provided by learners through a survey when they join the platform which approximately 10% of learners complete. 



The data provided has been extracted from SEEK Australia job boards for the timeframe 2018 to 2020. It includes job advertisement content (job title, industry, industry subcategory, start year/month of job, required and suggested skills (by type – referenceable experience, verifiable attainments, and observable attributes), city location, number of views, number of submitted applications) and candidate profile content (current job, current industry, skills held, job & education history – including university and qualification type). Job skill data only covers job advertisements from 2020. 



ExpertTracks are available on demand and have been designed to fit the needs of learners of all backgrounds and experience levels, meaning they can dive deeper into a subject and learn new skills around their busy lives. Consisting of three or more short courses, ExpertTracks are automated and peer assessed, and learners can earn valuable employer relevant certificates as they progress through their chosen pathways, helping them stand out across CV, interview and internal progression discussions.


Learners are able to access ExpertTracks via a flexible subscription model that costs GBP £36 per month (EUR €36, USD 39, AUD59) per ExpertTrack, with payment cancelling automatically on completion of the materials. Learners will also have the opportunity to try each ExpertTrack via a 7 day free trial, before purchasing a subscription.



Here at FutureLearn, our purpose is to transform access to education to help create a brighter future. We do that by partnering with over a quarter of the world’s top universities and industry partners 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, SamsungUK 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.




Diana Laurillard: Professor of Learning with Digital Technologies at UCL Knowledge Lab

Diana was formerly Head of the e-Learning Strategy Unit at Department for Education and Skills (2002-5); Pro-Vice Chancellor for learning technologies at the Open University (1995-2002). Researching MOOCs for professional education in challenging contexts, learning design, and digital games for dyscalculia. Current projects: The Transformational Potential of MOOCs in the Centre for Global HE at UCL-IOE; the project on Future Education in the RELIEF Centre at UCL-IGP. Recent book: Teaching as a Design Science, Routledge. Lifetime Contribution Award, E-Assessment Association; Honorary Life Membership, Association for Learning Technology.


Rebecca Hall, Commissioner for Victoria to South East Asia

Rebecca Hall is the Commissioner for Victoria to Southeast Asia. Her role involves managing Victoria’s interests within South East Asia by facilitating commercial engagements between businesses, attracting foreign direct investment into Victoria and strengthening bi-lateral relationships through strategic collaboration. She leads a team of trade, investment and education specialists based in Singapore, Indonesia, Malaysia and Vietnam and serving 11 markets in the region.

Rebecca’s career spans international education, economic development and industry programs across local, state and federal government. She’s also led teams and strategic projects with universities and peak bodies. Rebecca re-joins the Victorian Government after 5 years leading international education strategy and policy for the Queensland Government and Australian Government (Austrade).

Rebecca is passionate about making a difference through global engagement and the power of trade and education for a better world. She holds a Bachelor of International Business Relations and a Master of International Relations. She is a Graduate of the Australian Institute of Company Directors and awarded the International Education Association of Australia’s (IEAA) Leadership Award for her contribution to the sector in 2017.


Dr Rachid Hourizi, Director of the Institute of Coding (IoC)

The IoC is a successful national collaboration of more than 200 employers, 35 universities and 20 outreach partners that are working together to transform higher education and deliver new courses to help a larger and more diverse group of learners into tech careers. Courses from the IoC consortium have been co-developed with employers and have seen more than 675,000 learners enrolled to date. 


Prior to his current role, Rachid worked for ten years as a financial markets and commodity trader in London, Paris, Geneva and the USA, before taking up his first post at the University of Bath. 


Once at Bath, he worked on both national and international Human-Computer Interaction (HCI) research, receiving funding directly from industry, the European Union and UK research councils. He also has broad experience leading the teaching of coding, digital skills and entrepreneurship within the University of Bath’s Department of Computer Science. Amongst other initiatives, Rachid led efforts to launch the first Masters level digital skills degree apprenticeship in the country.


Caitlin Hayward, Associate Director for research and development at the University of Michigan Centre for Academic Innovation

Caitlin, manages the research and development portfolio at Academic Innovation, with a focus on ensuring that our projects are taking advantage of the vast amount of data available to them to inform design, iteration, and prioritization. In her role, she manages the data science and user experience research teams, and provides data analysis, research design, and creative problem to initiatives at all stages across Academic Innovation.


Prior to her role at the Office of Academic Innovation, Caitlin co-founded and led the development of the GradeCraft platform. In parallel to developing GradeCraft, she completed her PhD in Information Science, with a focus on learning analytics, the theoretical foundations of gameful pedagogy, and novel educational technologies.


Josie Fraser, Deputy Vice Chancellor at The Open University

Josie joined the Open University in March 2017. She describes her interest in the Open University and its mission as ‘long term’ after being a tutor on an OU MSc course back in the early 2000s, an experience that influenced her teaching for many years. Josie was previously Executive Dean of the Faculty of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics before taking up the DVC role from 1st January 2019.


Josie started her academic career as a neurobiologist with interests in animal behaviour and treatments for neurological and psychiatric disorders. Her BSc degree (Leeds) and PhD (Bradford) were followed with research posts at the Medical Research Council, the University of Cambridge, and the University of Massachusetts Medical School, where Josie was part of an international team at the cutting edge of brain scanning techniques. Josie’s focus shifted towards teaching and making a difference to a wide range of students from varied backgrounds, developed as Senior Lecturer and Associate Dean (Learning & Teaching) at the University of Bradford.


She has championed team-based learning as a teaching style on the national and international stage, resulting in invitations to consult at other Universities, and to sit on the board of an international healthcare education organisation. In previous roles, and now at the Open University, Josie promotes initiatives to broaden access to STEM subjects for under-represented groups and continues her long-standing interest in technology-enhanced learning. She is a role model on the Leadership Foundation for Higher Education “Aurora” programme (developing women academics’ leadership skills and aspiration).


A passionate believer in opening up opportunities, Josie enjoys outreach (bringing amazing OU research into schools and out to the general public), supporting the development of academic careers, and loves working at the Open University where the myriad of student journeys are a constant source of inspiration.


Patricia Davidson, Dean of John Hopkins School of Nursing Dean

Patricia has been a registered nurse since 1980 and has clinical, teaching, and practice expertise in cardiovascular science and the care of vulnerable populations. Across her career, she has been committed to developing innovative models of person-centered care delivery and evidence-based teaching. Dr. Davidson is secretary general of the Secretariat of the World Health Organizations Collaborating Centres for Nursing and Midwifery, counsel general of the International Council on Women’s Health Issues, a member of Sigma Theta Tau International’s Institute for Global Healthcare Leadership Advisory Board, and a board member of the Consortium of Universities for Global Health. She also serves on the Board on Health Care Services for the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. She has co-authored over 500 peer-reviewed journal articles and 29 book chapters. Her H -Index is 40 (Scopus) and 58 in Google Scholar, and Dr. Davidson’s i-10 Index is 329. She has been the adviser for over 40 doctoral and 15 postdoctoral candidates. She is deeply committed to diversity, equity, inclusion, and workforce development and interdisciplinary practice. Davidson is strongly focused on mentoring the next generation of health professionals and scientists, and in 2016 she earned the Australian Museum Eureka Prize for Outstanding Mentor of Young Researchers, the most prestigious research mentorship award in Australia. She is associate editor of the International Journal of Nursing Studies and on the editorial boards of a number of other journals, including the European Journal of Cardiovascular Nursing, Journal of Cardiovascular Nursing, and Heart Lung and Circulation.


Susan Elliott, Deputy Vice Chancellor, Monash University

Susan leads a dedicated Education portfolio at Monash University and is responsible for providing an integrated approach to the education elements within Focus Monash. As Deputy Vice-Chancellor and Senior Vice-President (Education), Professor Elliott is focused on actively promoting engagement and advocacy in shaping the University’s education agenda.


Susan joined Monash University in March 2017 from The University of Melbourne where she held the position of Deputy Provost and Deputy Vice-Chancellor (International).  In addition to Professor Elliott’s responsibilities for international engagement and development, she was also credited with the renewed direction of equity programs, increasing the number of students from disadvantaged backgrounds and reshaping The University of Melbourne’s scholarship program.


Professor Elliott is a Fellow of the Royal Australasian College of Physicians, and her many appointments on national and international committees include Past President of the Asia Pacific Association for International Education (APAIE) – the first Australian and first female academic to be elected to the position. She is a member of the Asia Pacific Rim Universities (APRU) International Policy Advisory Committee and she has also served as a Board member for the Australia India Institute. 


Medical education has been a key focus among Professor Elliott’s research interests, and she has published extensively on the scholarship of education.  Her academic qualifications include Bachelor of Medicine and Surgery, Doctor of Medicine (by thesis), and Graduate Certificates of Higher Education and Health Economics.


Sara Ali, Head of Culture at The Hopenclass and an award-winning communication expert in the business of luxury as featured by MBC, BBC and Vogue.


Starting over twenty-five years ago interning under the late Dame Zaha Hadid, Sara went against family pressure of a promising career as an architect to pursue her calling for the fashion industry. Besotted with the stories woven in textiles as much as its threads, Sara uses her unique point of view on legacy, heritage, social responsibility and entrepreneurship to raise as she leads. She has utilised her Afro-Arabian heritage to draw decision-makers to the emerging Middle East and African luxury markets where she has introduced the most elite of luxury brands. 


Today, Sara is also a special advisor to two royal households and several pioneering artists for her unique insight on protocol, culture and digital communication, business and red carpet wardrobe, and reputation management. She is also a Senior Consultant to Sir David Adjaye, OBE the architect behind the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington D.C., recently awarded the 2021 Royal Gold Medal, one of the world’s highest honors for architecture. Sara has received national awards in the United Kingdom for her outstanding work in fashion mentoring and for launching over 1000 female-owned creative businesses. She volunteers to speak on colonialism in the arts, modern slavery, women’s rights, the environment, mental health and fundraises to raise awareness of liver disease as a parent of a transplant survivor.


Professor Mark Brown, Director, National Institute for Digital Learning 

Mark is Ireland’s first Chair in Digital Learning and Director of the National Institute for Digital Learning (NIDL). He has over 30-years’ experience of working in Higher Education and has played key leadership roles in the development, implementation and evaluation of several major university-wide digital learning and teaching initiatives. Before taking up his current position, Mark was Director of the National Centre for Teaching and Learning at Massey University, New Zealand. His is a recipient of a National Award for Sustained Excellence in Tertiary Teaching and remains a member of the New Zealand Academy of Tertiary Teaching Excellence. He is an EDEN Fellow and was recognised in 2017 by the Commonwealth of Learning (CoL) as a world leader in Open, Online and Distance Learning. In 2019, Mark was Chair of the ICDE World Conference on Online Learning, which DCU hosted in Dublin. Mark is an active researcher, has a strong publication record and contributes to a number of leading international bodies working in the area. 


Maya Penn, American entrepreneur, philanthropist, animator, artist, and the CEO of her eco-friendly fashion company Maya’s Ideas

Founder and CEO, environmental activist, artist, eco-designer and 3 time TED Speaker Maya Penn founded the brand at just 8 years old from a passion for art and design and a drive to tackle the negative impact the fashion industry has on the environment. Penn was named to Oprah’s SuperSoul 100 list of visionaries and influential leaders in 2016


Dylan Williams, Chief Strategy Officer at Droga 5 and MD at Accenture

Dylan started his career at BBH as a Strategic Planner. He was promoted to the BBH board as its youngest-ever director and shareholder. In 2004, he became the first Chief Strategic Officer at Mother London. After working on award-winning campaigns, Dylan became a partner and shareholder. In his ten years at Mother, it doubled in size and won an unprecedented number of awards. Dylan then joined Publicis Worldwide as Global CSO in 2014. In his 18 months at the helm, the agency won its two largest global accounts in 20 years (Cadillac and Heineken). He also launched the Publicis Drugstore, an innovation facility that fosters relationships between start-ups and multinationals.


Ian Dunn, Provost, Coventry University

Ian led the development of Coventry University College in 2011 and was involved in the developments of campuses in Scarborough and Dagenham. He led the creation of Coventry University Online in 2017 to create a suite of fully online degrees available in partnership with FutureLearn.

Ian was awarded Inspiring Leader of the year in 2016 by the Guardian Higher Education Awards.


Nick Isles, CEO of Condé Nast College of Fashion & Design

Nick is an experienced writer, researcher and consultant with over twenty years’ experience of engagement with organisations across the private, voluntary and public sectors. In recent years he has specialised in working with a wide number of universities in the UK and elsewhere.


Mark Adams, Senior Vice President at Vice, Innovation

Mark’s journey started in 2003 when he created the first digital transformation consultancy for celebrities and public figures. After leading the digital transformation for over 100 entertainment brands, his new start up set strategy and up-skilled teams to drive digital transformation across their business. In 2015 it was acquired by Vice where Mark became senior vice president and head of innovation.


Ranata Hughes, Visiting Instructor/Internship Coordinator

Ranata Hughes joined the School of Journalism & Graphic Communication as a Visiting Instructor and Internship Coordinator in August 2017, after serving as an adjunct instructor from 2015-2017.

Hughes has worked as a public relations practitioner for over 10 years, specializing in the areas of non-profit and agency PR.

The SJGC alumna holds a Bachelor of Science degree in public relations along with a Master of Science degree in integrated marketing communications from Florida State University.

She is the adviser of the FAMU chapter of Public Relations Student Society of America and has been co-adviser of the student-run PR agency, PRecision Communications. Her professional organizations include membership in the Public Relations Society of America and the National Association of Professional Women. Hughes was inducted into Kappa Tau Alpha, the journalism honor society, and Golden Key International Honour Society.

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