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New report: Trends in Learning 2021

Social justice, wellbeing and authenticity. These are some of the key themes in The Open University’s (OU) Trends in Learning 2021 report. Launching at the CIPD’s Festival of Work conference, the annual report identifies and explores emerging trends in the learning and education sectors. 

All of the trends originate from another OU report – Innovating Pedagogy 2021. “Both reports enable us to share our knowledge, our thinking and insights about emerging teaching, learning and assessment innovations,” says Professor Agnes Kukulska-Hulme, who leads the Learning Futures programme at the OU. “Some of it is about horizon-scanning, but it’s all grounded in evidence from research and practice.”

That research and thinking comes partly from the OU’s Institute of Educational Technology and partly from the OU’s ongoing work and conversations with employers. Each year, the Institute collaborates with a different partner to identify global patterns. This year it was researchers from the Artificial Intelligence and Human Languages Lab and Institute of Online Education in Beijing. Technology is often one of the key driving forces behind learning innovations.

For the Trends in Learning report, the OU selects the Innovating Pedagogy trends that are most relevant to the learning sector and analyses the impact they are having or are likely to have in the workplace. Learning experts also give their perspective on each of the selected trends.

This year’s learning trends are gratitude as a pedagogy, enriched realities, best learning moments, chatbots in learning and evidence-based learning. Some of the trends, such as gratitude as a pedagogy, are only just emerging and are scarcely known in the industry. Others, such as evidence-based learning and enriched realities, are better known but are yet to gain real traction in the workplace.

The report was written during the pandemic and Kukulska-Hulme says some of the findings reflect the events of the last 18 months and the pressures of Covid-19. 

Social justice is always a critically important theme for the OU and the pandemic has highlighted inequities. Several of the pedagogies also relate to health and wellbeing – gratitude in pedagogy and best learning moments, for example. It’s also about recognising that remote teaching and learning present particular challenges to wellbeing.

Professor Agnes Kukulska-Hulme, who leads the Learning Futures programme at the OU

As well as five trends, the report also briefly discusses three other trends of significance: equity-oriented pedagogy, student co-created teaching and learning, and telecollaboration. 


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