Lockdown drives high demand for online learning


The Covid-19 is driving a surge in employees seeking distance learning opportunities, according to the Open University.

With coronavirus uncertainty affecting 49% of current job roles across the UK, 24% of employees have taken on additional learning opportunities to boost their employability, claimed the educational body after reviewing the results of a survey.

The OU speculated that the crisis could to alter the skills required for as many as five million job roles across the UK.

Younger employees were particularly keen to avoid any risk of their skills becoming obsolete, the survey results suggest. Over one third (39%) of 18-34 year-olds agreed that they would put their own money towards development opportunities if it made them more employable.

However, a quarter of employees (23%) said they would like to have more direction from their employers when it came to learning new skills, with younger team members again (38%) the most keen to have steer from their leaders on how to remain employable post-coronavirus.

The Open University’s free learning site has logged more than 950,000 course enrolments during lockdown, taking it beyond the 3.25 million mark since its launch. It said specialist work-focused courses such as leadership and followership had proved particularly popular, alongside modules on professional skills such as workplace communication.

In April, the Open University partnered with the Department for Education to help provide content for the government’s Skills Toolkit. This is aimed at boosting furloughed employees’ skills during lockdown to help them prepare for the return to work.

Workers who have taken on learning opportunities during lockdown have focused on developing managerial skills (51%), and just under a quarter (23%) have prioritised digital skills.

The OU said it was urging employers to make the most of the appetite for new skills development and utilise the advantages of online learning for remote employees, to cultivate the skills they were likely to require in the years to come.

Professor Tim Blackman, vice chancellor of the OU said it was clear employees were “prioritising the development of their own skill sets to prepare for the new normal.

“With OpenLearn, employees can enrol on free courses that reward them with certificates and digital badges, helping them signpost their development and the value of their skills.

He added that employees would still need direction from their employers if they were to acquire the new skills needed for post-lockdown business: “Employers must embrace lifelong learning as a necessity for growth and ensure that teams stay engaged, potential skills gaps are tackled proactively and the associated risk of losing valuable talent is minimised.”

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