Global learning platform FutureLearn, part-owned by The Open University, has published an in-depth study on the future of learning.
The report encompasses 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 highlighted in the report were revealed including:
- women and learning
- generational distinctions
- access, inclusion and self-education
- personal and professional development
The study pinpoints ten key global trends in learning that expand on these themes. These trends include women believing that education has the power to make the world a better place; that real progress is being made around the inclusivity and accessibility of learning; how the younger generation is accelerating change in education with online learning increasing; that the notion of “jobs for life” is rapidly on the decline.
Overcoming issues of diversity and inclusion
Inclusivity and opening up access came out strongly in the research conducted in the report. Almost half of people globally (49%) think education will be more accessible and better for people with disabilities.
Josie Fraser, Deputy Vice-Chancellor at The Open University, comments in response by pointing out that first “we have to solve and tackle digital poverty” in order to see the benefits.
While Diana Laurillard, Professor of Learning with Digital Technologies at UCL clarifies in the report that diversity and inclusion issues are overcome by online learning and spaces that “don’t set up prejudices in advance”.
Younger generations driving the change towards online learning
The report reveals that 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.
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.
Speaking about this changes in terms of jobs for life, Prof Fraser said:
“I went to university at 18 and I’ve never left. That’s not going to be a common career path in the future with the pace of acceleration of technological change.
“I think for the younger generation now, what good secondary education can give them in the UK is the ability to learn how to learn, learn how to change, and learn how to understand new opportunities.”
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.
Despite enthusiasm on the role technology can play in the future of learning, experts cautioned the excitement and warned that not everyone has access to even basic technology and that as both the education sector and technology companies, technology must not widen the existing digital divide, but instead work to close it to give everyone opportunities.
Read more about the global trends highlighted in The Future of Learning Report.