FutureLearn, the online social learning platform owned by The Open University, has published new research revealing that employees’ chances of promotion and securing a new role are enhanced by taking an online course. Nearly three quarters (73 per cent) of employers said they thought online courses were either very valuable (33 per cent) or valuable (40 per cent) when considering the promotion of an existing employee.
Professional development through online learning also carried favour among employers when hiring. Online learning was a 'differentiating factor' when assessing candidates with similar qualifications or experience for a new role. This was especially true for those in mid-management (73 per cent) and junior/entry level roles (71 per cent). It was less decisive in more senior roles, but still more than half of employers (61 per cent) said it could be a differentiating factor at director level.
The research, which surveyed 600 employers performing either recruitment or learning and development roles within an organisation in three territories (UK, US, Australia), found a correlation between the value attributed to online learning and an increase in uptake of online courses among employees within organisations. An overwhelming 92 per cent of employers said they found online courses very valuable (51 per cent) or valuable (41 per cent), which could help explain why 91 per cent of employers (87 per cent in the UK; 98 per cent in the US) said they had seen the amount of online learning increase in their organisation year-on-year.
Once thought of as the poor relation to face-to-face training, a mix of online and offline training was deemed the best way to keep pace with industry changes by nearly two thirds of employers (65 per cent).
There were also interesting synergies between the amount of time and money employers were willing to invest in online training. Four-fifths of employers (80 per cent) said they were willing to provide funding for online courses that staff take at their own initiative. Employers were also happy for nearly 10 hours of work time to be devoted to online learning every month (9.6 hours on average). Most online learning was self-directed (60 per cent), though a significant 32 per cent of respondents said it was half mandated, half self-directed.
“The fact that online learning is part of conversations around hiring and promotions, and that employers are reporting an increase in its usage, is all really encouraging,” said Stephen Somerville, managing director, Government and Employer Partnerships, FutureLearn. “We live in a digital age and it follows that employers should attribute such weight to professional development through digital mediums.
“If we don’t actively encourage upskilling we risk sleepwalking into an era of almost unprecedented technological change,” he added. “Online learning provides a platform that allows upskilling at scale and can be rolled out company-wide. If previously ‘professional development’ has meant cross-diarising and herding as many people into a room as possible for the afternoon, here is a solution that offers greater flexibility and allows learners to go at their own pace and balance professional development against competing priorities — while still having the benefits of being on the same course as their coworkers.
“On FutureLearn, we have everything from specialist courses on subjects like coding, to courses that help develop ‘soft skills’, which is likely to be an increasingly important point of differentiation in the age of AI,” added Somerville. “Now we’ve moved into the online degree space, we’re at a really exciting point in the history of online learning, which we believe will play a critical role in the years ahead. Many businesses have already adopted online learning and we expect to see greater numbers call on the medium to upskill employees at scale in future. Ultimately, it’s an organisation’s bottom line and the economy at large that will prosper. And that benefits us all.”