How the internet could transform the labour market for the better

Online learning has become so much a part of everyday life we barely know we’re doing it. But taking something for granted can mean we don’t always think about how we can get the best out of it. New Demos research finds that, with bold policies in place, online learning could help us level-up, boost productivity and improve labour market outcomes for people across the UK. 

Out today, The Learning Curve, found an employee-led learning revolution has transformed the way we progress in the labour market. The vast majority of the UK adult population now use the internet to learn at work (77%), and the majority of these have done so off their own bat (57%). They are also now doing their jobs more efficiently (67%)  and with more skills and expertise (66%) as a result. For many, it has had a real impact on their lives: one in five have used internet-based learning to help raise their pay, with a median pay-rise equivalent to £3,640 per year for full-time workers. 

Despite this, for many, there is little or no formal acknowledgement for the role internet learning is playing in developing work-place skills and expertise. And people who are from lower social grades, on lower pay, with fewer qualifications benefit less. To address these deficiencies, Demos recommends three steps to increase the quality and impact of online learning. 

The first is simply to improve access to online learning during working hours. A huge number of people have used the internet to become more efficient at work – we estimate as many as 20 million – but if we want to maximise these benefits, we need to ensure that all employees are equally entitled to learning opportunities. This is why we recommend the government consider paid learning leave as a statutory entitlement for employees.

The second is to ensure that low pay sectors are better able to tap into online learning. This will not only help to facilitate social mobility, but remove a significant barrier to boosting our productivity and leveling-up agenda. We therefore recommend a sector-by-sector led expansion of modular qualifications and progression routes that draw on pre-existing online learning resources.

Our research with online learners revealed that many had used the internet as an alternative means to learn, enjoying the informality of the internet and the absence of social pressures associated with the classroom. Traditional learning methods had often failed to provide them with equal access to the labour market and the jobs they aspired to. For this talent to be developed we recommend universities and professional bodies consult on introducing ‘open access exams’ to enable anyone to sit their exams and gain the qualifications. 

For the first time, we have captured the scale and impact of online learning in the UK. And if anything, it demonstrates that people themselves are driving their own progression. But if these benefits are to be equally spread across sectors, social groups and society, we are going to need a labour market that not only acknowledges its potential but able to play a more supportive role.