Learning online: How tech transformed education during Covid-19
The so-called ‘career for life’ is going out of fashion. According to a survey by staffing firm Robert Half, 64% of people favour “job-hopping” (switching career or role in under two years, up 22% in the last five years. For many jobseekers, whether in the beginning, middle, or end of their careers, online courses off an opportunity to upskill or chart a new path.
The Covid-19 pandemic has also played a role in accelerating interest in online education either. As lockdown’s shuttered people in, education became an increasingly important component of the tech sector. Key tech trends such as the internet, AI and machine learning all were introduced to make the online experience an even more customer-friendly place.
FutureLearn’s newest CEO Andy Hancock spoke with TechInformed about just how technology and education have weaved together to create an advanced online marketplace for education.
How has tech turned education into a marketplace?
Like many industries, the education sector is undergoing its own digital transformation, especially due to impacts of COVID. The importance of tech and digital learning in education is already demonstrating its influence today, with our recently launched report on the Future of Learning showing that online learning is the most popular way for one-third of UK adults to build their skills today. The demand from a global audience for renowned courses is also growing. We are no longer bound by our geographical location and instead have the choice through platforms like FutureLearn to gain an education anywhere and any time.
From my experience in helping to bring the financial sector into the digital age and making it easier for the customer to navigate, I can already envision a similar path for the education sector. Education is now well on its way to becoming a marketplace where both learners can choose their learning pathway to suit their life and career goals, and educational and industry partners can serve bite-sized learner-focused content to enable the building of these pathways. In terms of how we build on this marketplace for the future, it’s all about continuing to optimise it with technologies such as AI and machine learning, in order to make the process of choosing a course or uploading content as seamless as possible for learners and partners respectively.
How has the digitalisation of education strengthened learning?
Online learning has expanded beyond its debut as the ‘MOOC’ over a decade ago. Where platforms once looked to service large cohorts of learners via synchronous courses, the industry has naturally progressed towards a more asynchronous, personalised experience that’s more tailored to the individual.
Through this increased customer focus, online learning has placed more power into the hands of the learner, enabling them to find what they want to learn whenever they want to learn it. This is something that will only grow within the sector as consumer expectations around what they can do digitally continues along this trajectory. For educators, universities and learning platforms like us, this means we’ll need to leverage the vast amounts of data and customer behaviours we have, using tech, namely AI and machine learning to understand and help guide their experience on the platform.
These technologies not only have the potential to benefit learners, but, harnessed in the right ways, they can also give partners the tools they need to refine and grow their digital offerings. I see an opportunity here to make it even easier for partners to be on the platform.
Where does data, AI and automated models come into online education?
As mentioned above, the education space is ever-changing due to the changing needs of the learner and as such technology will play an instrumental role in delivering this effectively. Namely through AI and machine learning to understand and help guide their experience on the platform.
How will FutureLearn invest in the modern-day student?
As we know, the very nature of being a student is changing. FutureLearn is always looking to understand the learner of tomorrow and we’ve recently done research as part of our Future of Learning report into identifying what exactly the needs and expectations of the future learner are. The report’s findings around the importance of online learning to consumers really tells that people want more flexibility, accessibility and affordability from their education, which are the exact areas FutureLearn will continue to invest in and strengthen as a core part of our strategy.
We also know that learners value being able to interact with their peers while they learn, and the impacts this type of social learning has on their educational outcomes speaks volumes. At FutureLearn we’ve found that those who interact with social learning on a course are six times more likely to complete their course than those who do not. As education becomes increasingly blended between in-person and online delivery, investing in this social aspect will be a crucial part of ensuring the best outcomes for the modern-day student.
How do you feel about joining FutureLearn and what are you excited about?
I joined the company towards the end of 2021 and, having previously worked within the fintech sector at one of the UK’s biggest price comparison platforms, I’ve spent the last few months really getting to know the education sector and all its challenges and opportunities better. So far, what I’ve seen is very promising and I’m excited to be joining FutureLearn at a time when I believe we can make an even bigger impact on the sector through continuing on our mission to transform access to education.
I’m particularly excited to see all of the opportunities around scaling the platform and its offerings to our learners, educators and partners alike in order to deliver a robust lifelong learning experience. The career for life has become a thing of the past, especially with recent trends like the ‘Great Resignation’, which is why it’s more crucial than ever that we can continuously deliver career-relevant courses for people as they take their next step up, and the next one after that.
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