New study reveals online learning boosts average UK annual pay by £3,640

  • 10 per cent of the UK’s total economic output linked to online learning 
  • Two thirds of UK workforce use online learning to help with work; search engines and video platforms reign supreme as the main source of knowledge   
  • Only one in five do so under the recommendation of employers
  • More than three quarters of people who learn online (77%) say it’s beneficial to their mental health

(26th February 2020, London) Proactive Brits are using online resources to learn new skills and more efficient ways of working, driving as much as 10% of the UK’s economic output – according to a new report published by think-tank Demos, supported by Google.

The research polled 20,000 UK citizens in the most comprehensive report of its kind looking at online learning habits and their impact on people’s lives. The report concludes that the more you learn the more you earn as people’s hunger for knowledge and self improvement is directly impacting salaries and professional progression.  29 per cent of the UK working population have used internet-based learning to help raise their pay with a median pay rise being £2 per hour, equivalent to £3,640 per year for a 35-hour week. One in three have also used online learning to help them get a new job.

Two-thirds of those who use the internet to learn new things for work say that doing so has helped them do their job more efficiently, providing new evidence on the link between everyday workplace learning and economic productivity; it’s estimated that 20 million people in Britain feel that online learning has, at some stage, contributed to their professional output. Maximising the impact of everyday work-related online learning is an important part of the answer of how to raise economic productivity in Britain. 

Online learning remains something which is largely being driven by individuals. Only 18 per cent say they have undertaken learning at the suggestion or requirement of their employer. Given that 72 per cent of those learning online are doing so for free, predominantly on search engines and video, there is a clear benefit to employers to encourage, recognise and reward this proactive approach to more productive working.

Almost one-third (30%) of UK workers who said they have embarked upon online learning for work have used online resources to help start their own business, with more than a third (36%) using online tools to help them secure a preferential new role.

Community is key for young learners. More than a third of 18-24 year-olds (35%) learn new skills at work by discussing with other people online, for example on social media, compared with 23 per cent overall – making it their third most used tool, behind search engines and video learning. 

It seems however, that Brits don’t recognise how much they are learning. Almost half (45%) of Britons say they don’t learn as often as they would like, and over a third (37%) say ‘their days of learning are behind them’. Yet the fact that one in three people are using the internet to do so daily suggests that Brits aren’t giving themselves the credit deserved for just how much they are expanding their knowledge and skills of their own accord.  

Crucially, online learning is also improving our mental health with more than three quarters of people who learn online (77%) recognising the benefits to personal wellbeing. This result is remarkably consistent across every demographic – regardless of what you learn, whether it is for work or a hobby, and whether or not you received a pay rise or got a new job as a result, learning in itself is perceived as bringing similar mental health benefits.

But it’s not all work with no play, Brits are also turning to search engines and video to develop personal interests. The most searched skill on the internet is how to cook, with more than a third of online learners (36%) looking to hone their kitchen know-how. Second is DIY (29%), followed by gardening (24%) and maintaining/fixing things (23%).

Splitting the results by sex does little to challenge gender stereotypes. Women are significantly more likely to go online to learn more about arts and crafts, beauty, cooking, first aid, jam making, knitting and parenting. However, women are also more likely to be into academic courses, suggesting a desire to be intellectually challenged. Men on the other hand, are more into DIY, fixing things, playing an instrument and trainspotting. Surprisingly, 18-24 year olds are significantly more likely than average to be interested in jam-making. People aged 25-39 are more into building and making things, 40-59 year-olds are more likely to search for DIY tips, while those aged 60 and over prefer bird-watching.

The internet has unleashed an online learning revolution in the UK. Most Brits of all ages are using the internet to learn, a dramatic change in how and where learning happens in modern Britain. Despite the variety of subjects we are learning, one constant is the way in which those skills are then passed on. Just over one in five Britons (22%) say they have created learning materials for others to use online – with almost half (48%) of those being 18-24 year olds.

Given the ubiquitous nature of internet access, learning can now happen any time, any place, and is no longer confined to the classroom. This is opening up access to education for those that may have previously been excluded, whether due to income, caring responsibilities, disability or geography.

The full report from Demos can be viewed here. A full regional breakdown of the information is available upon request. 

Ronan Harris, MD Google UK & Ireland said: “Skills and productivity are vital to the growth of the UK economy. This report from Demos reveals that two thirds of the UK workforce are using free online resources to improve productivity, and that the majority of them are choosing to use search engines and video platforms as their main source of information. Given the ubiquitous nature of internet access, we are continuously taking onboard and sharing knowledge with those around us and it’s important that we continue to do so to fully harness the benefits of online learning throughout the UK.”

Polly Mackenzie, Chief Executive of Demos said: “This report gives the first real insight into the extent and impact of online learning in the UK.  What we found is really encouraging – not just for the businesses and organisations that are benefitting from upskilling employees, but in terms of the economy as a whole.  Yet there’s a warning here too – if employers fail to support this kind of learning, or fail to recognise the skills that result from it, then we all risk missing out. It’s time to radically rethink how we measure professional skills – so we can stop obsessing over qualifications, and focus on developing ability instead.”


Demos polled 20,000 people in the biggest report of its kind in the UK. That research was paired with in depth interviews with both individuals who have used the online learning to achieve career and personal goals and those who have not engaged in online learning, and a review of existing academic literature.







(1) 57.34% of our large total sample of all UK adults used the internet to learn new things for work. There are 52383965 adults in the UK (ONS 2019 mid year population estimate – the latest). So that gives an estimate of 30 038 703 people in the population who used the internet to learn new things for work. Of which, 67% said it made them do their jobs more efficiently (from our survey). So that gives an estimate of 20 million (30 038 703m x 0.67) actual people.