The Learning Curve: How the UK is harnessing the potential of online learning


The Learning Curve, a new report by Demos, supported by Google, finds that 10% of the UK’s economy output can be linked to online learning.

Demos polled 20,000 people in the biggest report of its kind looking at online learning habits and their impact on people’s lives 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.

The report finds that:

  • Two thirds of the 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
  • 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.

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.”


Read the full report here.

Read the report summary here.

Annex one: Horizon Summary

Annex Two: Evidence Review