More people prefer to learn new things online than in person, according to new research into virtual learning
Given the choice, more people prefer to learn new skills and knowledge online – and most likely alone – than alongside other people.
That’s according to new research into virtual learning, commissioned by learning management system provider Digits, which reveals that watching online videos and taking part in online courses are now the most popular learning methods in the UK.
On average, over one in four of the 2,000 people polled say they most enjoy learning via videos and courses on the internet (29% and 28% respectively), while face-to-face options, such as in-person classes with others present and one-to-one tutoring, were favoured by less than one in four people (23% and 19% respectively). Listening to content online or in an app, which may appeal to aural or auditory learners, was fifth on the list – selected by around one in six (15%) people.
Interestingly, and perhaps indicative of so-called ‘zoom-fatigue’ (where individuals find virtual real-time communication can be more exhausting than its off-screen counterpart), learners appear more likely to opt for in-person one-to-one tutoring than the online alternative. One-to-one tutoring online was the least preferred learning method overall, selected by just one in eight (13%) survey respondents (16% of men and 11% of women).
Analysis of the results shows various examples of how men and women like to learn in different ways – although online still trumps in-person for both sexes. Watching online videos is the top pick for nearly a third (31%) of men, compared to around a quarter (27%) of women. Whereas nearly a third (31%) of women, compared to around a quarter (26%) of men, would rather complete an online course to learn more about their chosen subject.
As expected, there are also distinct generational divides between how different age groups enjoy learning new things – whether it’s in the workplace, at college or at home – for their work, their studies or their own personal interest and enjoyment.
Baby boomers are three times less likely than Gen Z and millennials to have specific requirements around how and where they like to learn. Over two-fifths (43%) of survey respondents over 55, compared to just one in seven (14%) of those aged 16-to-34-years-old, report having ‘no method of learning in particular that they most enjoy’. Over a quarter (29%) of generation X-ers, aged between 45-to-54 years-old, say the same.
People over 55 who do express a preference are more likely to try online courses (24%) than consume online videos (21%). Video content, however, is the learning method of choice for everyone else under 55.
Given that many 16-to-24-year-olds may still be in school or college – or have only recently graduated from an educational institution – it’s perhaps unsurprising that a quarter (25%) of this age group favour live, in-person learning in a classroom-type environment over online courses. This could also be a direct result of the pandemic-led disruption, which meant students of all ages missed being able to learn interactively alongside their peers, for many months at a time.
Commenting on the results, Bradley Burgoyne, head of talent at Digits, says: “I don’t think you can underestimate the effects of the pandemic and the seismic shift that it’s had on society as a whole. We’ve proven that we can do so much more virtually and remotely than we could ever have thought possible just a few years ago. It has changed how we interact with each other on many levels, and, as a knock-on effect, how we want to interact and experience learning and development – both professionally and personally.
“I think people really enjoy the flexibility that online learning brings – being able to learn at a time of their choosing, when they are ready to learn, for the length of time that they want to devote to it. As these survey results clearly show, people prefer learning methods that are less prescriptive and give them more personal choice in when and how they learn. I think it’d be really difficult for some people to imagine going back to how certain things were pre-2020. And why would they? Face-to-face learning, taking place at a set location and point in time, isn’t always as easy to fit in around the rest of people’s busy lives as online learning is.
“Of course, there is and will always be a demand for face-to-face learning. And that’s the challenge for HR and L&D teams – and anyone that offers training – as we move forward. When we’re designing a piece of learning or a development activity, it has to work on many levels: it has to be able to cater for different audiences, with different learning needs and preferences, who will all want to interact with it in a slightly different way.”
What are people choosing to learn?
As part of the study, Digits researchers also investigated the types of courses and topics that people in the UK have been searching for online over the past few years.
When it comes to online classes more generally, tech subjects still lead the way – with more people searching for IT, web development and design classes, between 2019 and 2021, than all other subjects combined. Business, management, and finance are the next most popular areas of study.
eLearning has never been more popular, in part due to the pandemic when millions of people were ordered to ‘stay at home’. They couldn’t leave their homes, but they could take virtual classes in almost anything. In 2020 alone, searches relating to art and photography rose by a significant 530%, while searches for learning to play instruments almost doubled. While those interests might not have lasted past lockdown, the long-term impact of the pandemic saw people gain more choice and control over how and when they wish to learn.
Digits’ virtual learning report, examining the UK’s favourite learning methods and subjects, including statistics on the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on virtual learning, is available to view at https://www.digits.co.uk/virtual-learning-statistics. The results include a survey of 2,000 people in the UK aged over 16, conducted by Censuswide for Digits, in January 2022.
Digits LMS (part of the CIPHR Group) has over 25 years of experience developing award-winning learning management systems and designing bespoke, accessible-anywhere learning content for mid- and enterprise-size organisations. Its customers include some of the world’s biggest automotive and retail brands, including Kia UK, Mitsubishi Motors, Bunzl, Bensons for Beds, and Carpetright. Three million courses are completed via the Digits learning platform per year, with 5,500 logins per day.
Digits are exhibiting at Learning Technologies, taking place on 4-5 May at London ExCeL, on stand K40.
For more information, please visit www.digits.co.uk.
Emma-Louise Jones, digital PR manager at Digits & CIPHR
t: 01628 244206
David Richter, director of marketing at Digits & CIPHR
Digits LMS (a CIPHR company) is a leading UK-based provider of learning management solutions. It has over 25 years’ experience developing award-winning eLearning solutions and designing bespoke, accessible-anywhere learning content for mid and enterprise-size organisations. Three million courses are completed via the Digits learning platform per year, with 5,500 logins per day.
CIPHR Group is a privately held company, headquartered in Marlow, Buckinghamshire. Over 200 employees work across the group, which includes CIPHR, Digits Industries and Payroll Business Solutions (PBS).