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.

Career Skills for the 2020s: What we’ve learned so far

Coventry University Online (CUOL) designed a specific learning programme, Career Skills for the 2020s, to respond to the rapidly changing world. Learners assess their strengths and weaknesses and explore and build the skills they need to progress in work or to seek a new job. The course builds learners’ confidence in working online and embracing technology in their professional life.

Designed for anyone who would like to improve their online and digital skills, as well as soft skills such as communication, problem-solving, emotional intelligence, adaptability and resilience, it is particularly useful for those looking to better understand what employers want in the 2020s.

What did we want to learn?

When we submitted our proposal in December 2019, we had a clear idea of what we wanted to achieve. We had a plethora of content from the many Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) produced at CUOL and delivered on the FutureLearn platform, and were excited about tailoring it for a new audience, the National Retraining Scheme (NRS) cohort.

We wanted to test the digital tools available on FutureLearn, such as online/virtual groups and peer review assignments, to see whether they helped increase learner motivation and confidence. We were also curious to compare the experiences of learners on the open MOOC vs the closed invite-only course, with the two different types of course offering different functionalities and learner experiences.

To achieve this, we partnered with the Behavioural Insights Team, who we commissioned to conduct an independent evaluation. We planned on recruiting for the invite-only course cohorts from Coventry University’s industry partners and started working closely with its ‘faculty on the factory floor’, the Institute of Advanced Manufacturing and Engineering, which offered us access to industry partners such as Unipart, Rolls Royce and DHL.

This short clip explains how we used our funding and what we wanted to find out, as well as some of the challenges and successes we encountered along the way.

What have been the successes?

The course has proved extremely popular and useful with high enrolment, engagement and learner satisfaction. It continues to receive great feedback from learners globally, with over 8000 enrolments to date. Now that England is moving out of lockdown, numbers in England are continuing to pick up. Spring is in the air, and completion rates are rising. As learners have had more time to finish the most recent February run of the course, the completion rate is up to 35.6% (high for MOOCs), with 94.3% positive feedback.

We’re proud that the course has been selected to be part of several initiatives in the West Midlands to help and support the NRS cohort it was designed for, including the UK City of Culture and Enhancing Futures, a Coventry University programme designed to help students find employment once they graduate. We will continue to reach out to communities in the West Midlands and help them rebuild, including our industry partners who need our help more than ever as they recover from the pandemic.

What have been the challenges and innovations?

Finding solutions to the challenges posed by lockdown led to innovation. As we were unable to film real people, we decided to create animations of our Student Experience team, with a member of the team welcoming learners to each week and looking ahead to the next, a strategy designed to motivate learners to look ahead and keep going.

CUOL support team

The lack of a closed invite-only cohort of learners from industry partners led to us experimenting by creating a closed course of learners recruited from social media marketing that ran alongside the January open course. From the analytics in FutureLearn we could see a clear difference in learner behaviours. Rather than closed course learners feeling supported by their peers that they knew were in England and part of the same demographic, learners did not feel comfortable being the first to speak out and comment. As one learner observed: “We need a few people in front of us on it, like a queue.”

In comparison, the social learning we expected to see on the closed invite-only course was happening in the open course for NRS cohort learners, who were mixed in with learners from all over the world, sharing their experiences and having conversations. Learners also used the digital tools available to them in the open course. For example, the peer review exercise where learners can give each other feedback on covering letters was a motivating factor for several learners to continue and complete the course.

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Our next course starts on 17 May and is open for enrolment now. Please do share it with your networks. You never know, it might just help someone get a new job and change their life.

You can watch the Coventry University CareerTech Challenge pitch video below


Tara Hawes

Senior Digital Platform Lead, Coventry University Online