Last week, we published Make it FutureFit: Four ways to design better adult learning experiences, a practical guide designed to help those who seek to prepare workers for the immediate needs of a rapidly changing world of work.

In light of the current COVID-19 crisis, we hope this guide will inspire anybody, from training providers to employers, who are posed with the imminent challenge of reimagining how to deliver learning experiences remotely.

Nearly all in-person programmes taking place across Asia or Europe until June 2020 have been postponed or cancelled. Shifting learning experiences online seems to be the best option right now but this requires careful consideration. Here are three priorities which we think need urgent attention.

1. Get the pedagogy right first

Whilst technology affords us the chance to do many things, we need to remember that it’s essential to get the pedagogy right first. As many workers are faced with uncertainty, building a high quality learning curriculum will require understanding what drives people to learn at this moment in time.

With plenty of industries having to rapidly adapt to the effects of the COVID-19 crisis, matching the curriculum to imminent industry demands is more important than ever. Learning objectives need to reflect the world you’re preparing learners for.

It’s also key to consider how to create a safe space that can encourage learners to produce their own informed opinions on what is happening in the world right now. The future might be uncertain but reflection exercises can help learners to digest information and enrich it with their own considerations, values and ambitions.

For instance, Hyper Island’s courses get learners to reflect on a number of things: how technological developments affect their roles and their lives; what skills they can build on or may need to develop as a result; and how to identify personal opportunities in a digitally transformed world.

learning remotely during covid-19

2. Make sure barriers to learning are not reinforced

Despite advancements in digital technologies, our research shows that there are still many barriers that prevent adults from learning: lack of time and cost, lack of access to high quality training, limited guidance and a lack of belief and motivation to get involved in training in the first place.

How can we ensure that such barriers won’t be reinforced during the crisis and how can we keep on learning whilst in lockdown?

Many companies are offering their services for free to support those who are most affected. For example, Adobe is providing free in-home access to the Adobe Creative Cloud to higher education and K-12 institutional customers globally to facilitate distance learning through May 2020.

Free online course, Elements of AI is another brilliant example of how digital tools are making remote learning a feasible and accessible option. On a mission to make the basics of artificial intelligence accessible to everyone - regardless of background, age or gender - Elements of AI’s courses are offered in five different EU languages. By 2021, the course will be offered in all official EU languages. Since launching, Elements of AI has already trained over 350,000 students from across 170 countries.

Coordinated and scalable efforts to offer online learning are increasingly critical. The Danish EdTech network has recently launched a website, where educational technology providers can offer their products for free during the crisis. In the coming weeks, the list of providers will also include companies from Sweden, Finland, Norway and Iceland. To effectively respond to such unprecedented times, building international and cross-system collaboration is more urgent now than ever before.

elements of ai

3. Focus on human connections

Efforts to encourage learning during COVID-19 shouldn’t be limited to the application of digital technology. Instead, they should also focus on rethinking the learning experience as a means of fostering collaboration, peer-support and meaningful interactions.

Through FutureFit, a major training and research project led by Nesta, we focus on creating an effective adult learning system to help tackle inequality and social exclusion across the Benelux and Nordic regions. In Sweden, the FutureFit training is run entirely online. The participants undergo a cohort-based training via virtual classrooms with facilitators and coaches for six weeks.

As we are forced to isolate, digital tools are an incredible resource to maintain the social element of learning. Similarly to the FutureFit training in Sweden, using video, virtual breakout rooms, and encouraging people to give feedback to each other can help sustain a learning community throughout these challenging times.

Our Make it FutureFit guide also contains lots of advice on how to build a community of learners from Enrol Yourself, a social enterprise helping adults develop new skills through peer-to-peer learning.

When it comes to setting up online classrooms, it is also important to think about who’s in your group, what support they need, and what they can offer others. Group size is also important; whilst maintaining small groups can result in higher quality interactions, larger groups can also increase perspectives, knowledge, and exchange of skills.

peer to peer learning

A paradox of this crisis is that whilst social distancing is key to prevent the virus from spreading, the consequences of loneliness can also be detrimental to people’s wellbeing and to their learning. As individuals, industries and governments are being affected on an unprecedented scale, we believe it’s time to accelerate new forms of learning - not only to enable millions of people who need to learn new skills, but also to harness a new type of social endeavour during these isolating times.


To learn more about our efforts, visit our project page FutureFit - a major training intervention focused on upskilling and reskilling workers and doing innovative,robust research about what works.


Beatrice Bekar

Beatrice Bekar

Beatrice Bekar

Assistant Programme Manager, Future of Work

Bea is an Assistant Programme Manager.

View profile
Juan Casasbuenas

Juan Casasbuenas

Juan Casasbuenas

Curriculum and Content Manager

Juan was a Curriculum and Content Manager supporting the Digital Frontrunners and Global Innovation Policy Accelerator programmes.

View profile
Genna Barnett

Genna Barnett

Genna Barnett

Programme Manager, Data Analytics Practice

Genna is the Programme Manager for the Data Analytics Practice at Nesta.

View profile