About Nesta

Nesta is an innovation foundation. For us, innovation means turning bold ideas into reality and changing lives for the better. We use our expertise, skills and funding in areas where there are big challenges facing society.

Future skills: how our innovators are transforming online adult learning

There is no sector that has been untouched by the impact of COVID-19 and it has dramatically changed the way all of us are working right now. Even before the pandemic hit, Nesta research from 2017 showed that the development of new technologies such as artificial intelligence and robotics, demographic shifts, and a changing and increasingly globalised economy were already driving changes in the demand for different types of skills. Millions of people were already working in jobs that were likely to change radically or disappear entirely by 2030, and COVID-19 has only accelerated changes to the employment landscape that many were anticipating. As we adjust to the new normal in the short-term, we also need to consider how workers will adapt to and navigate an ever-changing labour market over the coming decades.

In this complex picture, two things are clear to us:

  1. People need to be ready to learn new skills throughout their careers
  2. People must be given accurate and impartial guidance that helps them find good work

One of the ways we are working to address these goals is through our CareerTech Challenge, with the Department for Education, which is working with 31 organisations developing practical solutions for online adult learning and career advice and guidance to be tested with workers most vulnerable to workforce changes. While working on the Challenge, it’s become clear that there are four main themes emerging from the developing digital innovations.

1. Make it personal

Looking for a job, and learning new skills are deeply personal, and have an impact on the way we see ourselves and measure our success. Many existing online education or career guidance services don’t provide users with personalised content, despite being marketed to a large number of people in differing situations.

Creating personalised opportunities for users provides them with a feeling of familiarity and safety. Innovators like Learnify and Sopra Steria are testing out simple nudges such as including the user’s name on an app interface, as well more complex personalised learning pathways which use behavioural analytics to curate learning content.

2. Build from strengths

Identifying the right starting point for a learner or job seeker is critical to building their confidence and setting realistic aims.

Users of digital services usually struggle with content that is pitched either too far above or below their current level of understanding, leading to lack of motivation and disengagement. Yuno, Skilllab and SkillsTree are all developing intelligent diagnostic tools that identify the strengths of the user, and build on this to point them towards further learning and development opportunities which capitalise on what they are already good at.

3. Interact with others

Motivation is a key factor in looking for work and learning, and the current landscape fails to incentivise lifelong learning.

According to Nesta and CFE Research’s report What Motivates Adults to Learn?, providing jobseekers with interaction and reflection with others can help them engage for longer and in more depth with digital interventions designed to help them learn new skills. Whether this takes the form of an online peer mentor in the case of Coventry University Online, for example, or an AI-powered chatbot being developed and tested by Career Chat, our innovators are testing the ways this kind of interactive encouragement can improve engagement, career options and the final outcomes of learning.

4. Engage employers

In the existing economic climate, employers have a significant influence over someone’s learning and development, and future job security. They form a key part of the conversation around upskilling and currently too few retraining services engage directly with industry. Nesta’s Make it FutureFit report highlights that work and learning are often seen as separate activities, with both employers and employees deprioritising learning and development in order to get people in jobs in the short term.

Directly involving employers in the design and testing of products for learning and careers guidance ensures they take responsibility for their employees’ futures and create a workforce well-equipped to deal with labour market changes. CareerTech Challenge innovator Wizenoze is a pioneer in this area building and testing learning content in partnership with a UK retailer.

As the employment landscape changes at a rapid pace, we need to find new ways of learning and providing career guidance to help people to navigate the new world of work. This is part of our broader vision for a labour market system where information about skills and careers is open and empowering for workers; where technology is harnessed to reduce – not drive – inequalities in access to jobs; and where policies give everyone the power to overcome systemic barriers that stop them participating in good-quality, meaningful work.

Browse the full list of CareerTech Challenge innovators for the CareerTech Challenge Prize and Fund.


Emma Selinger

Emma Selinger

Emma Selinger

Assistant Programme Manager

Emma was an Assistant Programme Manager for the CareerTech Challenge.

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Amy Solder

Amy Solder

Amy Solder

Deputy Chief Central Programmes Officer

Amy was the deputy chief programmes officer at Nesta, supporting the work of its three missions.

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