3 Learning trends and opportunities we predict for 2021

By Sophie Austin on

The past twelve months have wrought some of the biggest changes the UK has seen for generations; and yet, in a year characterised by sweeping disruption, one thing has remained a constant. People want to learn - and in ever increasing numbers. What is interesting, however, is what they are looking for, how they are looking and why have all seen dramatic shifts. Today we’re digging into the three trends we’re predicting for 2021 as well as the challenges and opportunities these may present.

The funded training knowledge gap

Findcourses.co.uk is an education search engine that has been established in the UK for over ten years, and a deep dive into our analytics can reveal a lot about search trends for adult learners and young people. Whilst the market for funded courses has been increasing on findcourses.co.uk since 2017, what’s been most interesting in the past twelve months has been the increase in qualification-led searches. BTEC searches jumped 1280%. NVQ searches 69%. A-Level searches by 138%. Of course being the site manager for a website that handles millions of visits each year, the interesting question for me is not what but why.

I watched our site statistics get affected by lockdowns in real time. The amount of people who seemed to be interested in doing a career ‘360’, going back to college and starting from scratch began to increase - even before the UK government announced their re-skilling drive.

Some of them were driven by the desire to help (searches for funded courses that would lead to careers in Healthcare skyrocketed in March, April and May 2020 and remained high ever since). Others were driven by a realisation that perhaps they needed to make their knowledge base more lucrative. Their skill sets more sustainable.

Of course, digging through data can only tell us half the story, so in January of 2021 we surveyed our 60,000 email members to ask them whether they were planning on reskilling and taking their career in a new direction. 74% came back to us and said yes - they were looking to re-train. The majority of those users were between the ages of 25-44, but they weren’t the only ones. 20% of survey respondents aged 65+ were looking to retrain with government funded courses. That week, I had a user on our chatbot ask me if 60 was too old to take a course in nursing. “Of course not,” I told him. “You’re never too old to learn something new.”

But whilst the desire is there, trying to navigate the world of funded learning isn’t as straightforward as it should be. The same survey highlighted that nearly 90% of our users didn’t know how to check their funding eligibility and a further 83% weren’t aware that funded courses might be open to them. This is a significant disconnect; and it’s not unique to Level 2 courses, one of the most popular funded searches on our site. In 2018/19 we spoke to companies who had successfully embedded apprenticeships into their workplace learning strategies, and one of the major themes in the conversations I had with heads of HR and Learning and Development was that there was a knowledge gap. People didn’t know that you could be any age and be an apprentice, in the same way they’re unsure today of whether they can go back to the classroom to retrain.

This highlights a clear opportunity for those providing funded courses to help learners, making it clear at the point of entry whether the course can be funded, alongside any eligibility requirements. This will not only help bridge this knowledge gap, but it can help increase course enrolment by 20%.

Trend 2: Job-first thinking

What people searched for has also shifted in the past twelve months. As the gap between essential and non-essential widened, we saw more searches for training relating to professions that were typically viewed as secure during 2020: teacher training searches increased by almost 40%, health and social care courses by 25%, logistics and transport training by 24% and veterinary/animal care course searches were up 15%[1].


What I found most interesting was that in 2020, the single most valuable piece of information a user needed to book a course was the course outcome, how the qualification could be used and what career paths the learner could consider afterwards. Search statistics from findcourses.co.uk show that courses that had this information saw 8.8% higher enrolment rates. This signals a shift from 2019 whereby the most needed element was price, which could suggest that post-COVID we will see an even more career-focussed mindset in learners.

Trend 3: A digital-first future

Finally, while the classroom setting is not disappearing anytime soon, more people would consider an online course now than ever before.

In our COVID-19: Impact on Learning survey, 26% of users said that before the pandemic they would only attend a course in person. Though 33% still prefer classroom-only teaching, 50% of them would now consider online learning and 5% said they would only book online classes in the future. For those that are eagerly awaiting a return to the classroom, the top three reasons were: ability to focus, engagement with the learning material and the enrichment that comes from meeting and being around other people.


The shift to online learning has however had a surprising consequence: learners are booking courses faster, and with a shorter lead-in time than ever before. During 2020, the number of pages a learner typically browses before making a course booking reduced, with 84% of learners booking a course after just one page view[2] (in 2019, this figure was 77%). This suggests learners are now making faster decisions on whether a course is suitable for them.

This quick decision-making also meant that courses with snappy descriptions of 200-500 words saw a much higher booking rate than courses with over 800+ words. This was the same for both vocational qualifications (where the sweet spot was 423) and undergraduate degrees (478)[3] and suggests that too much information at the point of first contact may overwhelm the prospective learner and reduce their likelihood of sending a course enquiry.

Final thoughts

Our most recent publication: 3 Challenges Facing UK Learners in 2021 builds on the above and dives further into the obstacles facing learners. I believe there is a clear opportunity for providers to address the needs of today’s learners and that all of us, as important members of the education industry, can do something more to help those who are looking to get back on track post-pandemic. Get access to this report as well as quarterly course search trends, tips and statistics here.


[1] Source: findcourses.co.uk analytics; data compared between March 10 - March 9 2020/21 vs. March 10 - March 9 2019/20

[2] Source: findcourses.co.uk analytics; data compared between March 10 - March 9 2020/21 vs. March 10 - March 9 2019/20

[3] Source: findcourses.co.uk analytics; data compared between March 10 - March 9 2020/21 vs. March 10 - March 9 2019/20