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</Why online digital skills education is a hit with learners – an IoC, FutureLearn and University of Leeds case study>

Published on 8 September 2020 by web editor

Case Studies

With millions of people staying at home in recent months, there has been a massive appetite for online learning and courses. For the Institute of Coding (IoC), this surge in interest has been apparent in our high learner enrolment numbers during lockdown, with a tenfold increase in registrations since March. But what is it about online education that works well for learners? In this case study, we examine why our partnership with leading social learning platform FutureLearn and the University of Leeds has been so successful.

Online learners now have a variety of choices in terms of course format, cost and topic, but for those who want to improve their employability, it’s not always clear whether a course will provide useful workplace skills. Digital skills training can also be particularly inaccessible to new learners, both in content and price. These issues, as well as others including time constraints and household obligations, can be barriers to learner participation in digital skills education at university level. The ensuing effect these barriers have on the diversity of the digital sector is significant, with, for example, just 16% of IT workers in the UK being women.[1]

Finding a flexible solution

The IoC knows from our research that making courses more flexible, accessible and listed at different price points can encourage a much wider group of learners into digital skills education[2]. In addition, our industry partners have told us that there’s a large disparity in the alignment of the skills potential employees have, and the skills employers want. This can then result in learners finding it difficult to find employment, and companies are left dealing with a skills gap. Research from the University of Leeds has shown that online learning platforms have traditionally attracted a specific demographic[3], who may not be the people most in need of digital skills training, and has shown how online courses can be designed to support learner engagement, interaction and completion[4]. With all of these priorities in mind, the IoC, FutureLearn and the University of Leeds joined together to create a collection of online courses that would satisfy both the needs of learners and employers.

As the courses required both industry and educator input, the development of the course content was led by the University of Leeds, with support from Nesta, UK Black Tech and techmums, who were consulted on the content and delivery of the courses. This collaboration resulted in the launch of the ‘Digital Skills for the Workplace’ collection in December 2019.

Aligning topics with industry and learner need

Each of the fifteen short courses in the collection take around four hours in total to complete, so learners can fit studying into their lifestyle and level up their skills quickly. As for topics, learners have a wide variety of choices, with subjects ranging from introductory coding to communication skills and social media campaign creation. Each course in this collection was carefully chosen to reflect learner and industry need. This is reflected in the top 3 courses from the course collection, which are ‘Communication and Interpersonal Skills at Work’, ‘Computer Programming for Everyone’ and ‘Create a Social Media Marketing Campaign’.

These short, online courses have been highly successful both in terms of enrolments, with more than 500,000 learners enrolled on the ‘Digital Skills for the Workplace’ collection to date, and learner experience, with courses having an average rating of 4.7 out of 5 stars. As part of the interactive nature of FutureLearn courses, learners are able to leave written reviews on how they found a course and what they gained from it.

One learner, David F., commented that the courses were “hugely informative and [have] provided great comfort during this unusual time. It has made me think about what can be achieved and it has added to my C.V. Bite size learning is brilliant.”

The demographics of the learners also ranges widely, with a gender split of 47% women and 51% men, ages from 18-65+, and many learners falling into the categories of full-time students, unemployed or looking for work.

Looking forward

These statistics tell us that there is not only a great appetite for digital skills education in the UK, but also that the short, online and free nature of this particular collection makes it accessible for those who haven’t traditionally been included in the tech sector. With 82% of all job listings now requiring digital skills[5], and 9.5 million people temporarily out of work in the UK[6], the popularity of the IoC and FutureLearn courses with a diverse range of learners suggests that the importance of accessible education is only set to grow. And the IoC and our partners are well-placed to continue to help online digital skills learners flourish.

If you’d like to explore our 200+ courses and start or continue your digital skills journey, visit our course catalogue.


[1] WISE Campaign, 2019. 2019 Workforce Statistics – One million women in STEM in the UK

[2] Institute of Coding and Deloitte, 2020. Diversifying Digital

[3] Morris NP, Swinnerton BJ, Hotchkiss S. 2015. Can demographic information predict MOOC learner outcomes?. eMOOCs Conference. http://eprints.whiterose.ac.uk/86184/

[4] Swinnerton BJ, Hotchkiss S, Morris NP. 2017. Comments in MOOCs: who is doing the talking and does it help?  Journal of Computer Assisted Learning. 33(1), pp. 51-64. http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/jcal.12165

[5] DCMS, 2019. No Longer Optional: Employer Demand for Digital Skills

[6] Statista, 2020. Number of jobs furloughed under the job retention scheme in the United Kingdom between April 20 and July 26, 2020

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