Sophie Hall, Research Manager
With technology becoming integral to how we learn, Learning and Work Institute is partnering with Ufi VocTech Trust to identify key trends in the development, deployment and use of technology in adult learning.
As part of our multi-year partnership, questions were included in this year’s Adult Participation in Learning Survey to explore how adults use technology for learning, how this can support them to learn, and the kinds of technology they are comfortable using in their learning, work and wider life.
This blog explores the key takeaways from these questions and their implications for supporting adults into learning and work.
1) Most current and recent learners have used technology as part of their learning
Almost all adults (95 per cent) who had learned during the last three years had used technology while learning. This finding is consistent with the results from the wider survey, which shows an increase in online learning year-on-year, particularly since the Coronavirus pandemic.
However, the types of technology used by adults varied widely. The most common uses of technology were watching online videos (46 per cent), completing online assessments (40 per cent), and sending and receiving emails (38 per cent). Fewer had used more formal learning technologies such as video calls/webinars (35 per cent) or online learning platforms (33 per cent), perhaps owing to the high proportion of survey respondents learning for leisure and learning independently.
2) Many adults lack confidence using technology for learning or work
Despite the high proportion of adults using technology while learning, the survey reveals a lack of confidence using technology to learn and work. When it comes to commonplace technologies such as email, smartphones, laptops/desktop computers and online search engines, adults say they are more confident using these in their everyday lives than for learning or work. For example, while 69 per cent of adults say they are confident using email in their everyday life, this decreases to 58 per cent who are confident using email for work and 56 per cent who are confident using email for learning.
Confidence in using technologies more specific to learning and work is also low; just two in five adults are confident in joining video meetings for work (40 per cent) or learning (39 per cent), while only three in ten (31 per cent) are confident using online platforms to learn. This is concerning, given that these technologies have become embedded in learning and work settings since the Coronavirus pandemic.
Adults who we know from the wider survey are least likely to say they have taken part in learning are also most likely to indicate they lack confidence in using technology for learning and work. This includes older adults, those with low or no formal qualifications, people who are unemployed, and those in lower socio-economic grades.
A lack of confidence using technology can present barriers to accessing, succeeding and progressing in learning and employment. Structured support is therefore vital when introducing new technologies to work and learning settings, or when onboarding new learners or staff members, particularly for groups of adults most likely to experience barriers.
3) Technology can enable adults to learn and enhance their learning experience
Adults who had used technology to learn identified a range of benefits of doing so. These related to both enabling learning – for example, by making it easier to learn at home (48 per cent), at a convenient time (43 per cent) or at their own level and pace (40 per cent), and enhancing learning – for example, by making learning more interesting (29 per cent) and increasing adult’s confidence (25 per cent) and motivation (24 per cent) to learn.
Adults who had not used technology to learn in the last three years were less likely to identify potential benefits of using technology – 77 per cent identified at least one potential benefit, compared to 97 per cent of adults who had used technology to learn identifying at least one benefit of doing so. This demonstrates a need to proactively demonstrate and communicate the benefits of technology to engage more adults in learning.
4) Adults are beginning to engage with emerging technologies to learn
Emerging technologies offer exciting possibilities for engaging and supporting adults to learn. A considerable minority of survey respondents indicated that they had already engaged with AI (14 per cent) and virtual reality (VR) (9 per cent) as part of their learning. Men were more likely than women to say they have used both AI (17 per cent compared to 11 per cent) and VR (10 per cent compared to 8 per cent). It will be interesting to explore how these figures change over the next few years as these technologies become more established, and whether the benefits of these technologies are equally accessible to all.
Learning and Work Institute and Ufi VocTech Trust are currently developing a programme of place-based collaborations to support more adults into learning, and a grant call to support digital solutions to barriers to accessing learning. The findings from this survey offer important considerations for shaping this work and ensuring that digital solutions are well-designed and accessible.
We also plan to continue including these questions in the Participation in Learning Survey in future years, to track how engagement and confidence with technology is changing over time.