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How Flexible Learning Meets the Needs of the Modern Workplace


2020 has been a year that has seen millions of people adapt to big changes in the way they work, and in their lives generally.

It’s a year when flexibility has been key for individuals, families, businesses and governments.

Students and education providers too, from schools to universities, have also had to show flexibility. And it’s not likely to end any time soon. The possibility of further local lockdowns of the sort we have already seen in parts of England and Wales remains very real. More broadly, flexibility looks set to become part of the ‘new normal’ as a recent survey of 4,500 UK workers by Zurich Insurance shows that 59% of people would prefer to work from home for more than half the week.

This new flexibility is described in a recent white paper, Developing business value through flexible learning, written by award winning learning analyst Laura Overton for The Open University and learning and development website TrainingZone. In it, Overton writes:

“More than ever, the modern worker needs to be flexible. They need to be able to bend easily without breaking as the work environment shifts, to be able to modify their approach and plans as requirements change.”

The dramatic and sudden changes in working practices that have taken place this year have certainly been a test of that flexibility. But the flexibility Overton is writing about is not just a short-term reaction to a medical emergency. Rather she is talking about a long-term shift in attitudes as a result of changes taking place in the economy and society.

New technologies, the response to climate change, and new expectations among younger generations are all pushing in the direction of greater flexibility in the world of work. As Overton writes:

“Now, technology is not only forcing change but creating new opportunities, we’re also seeing an increase in portfolio careers as individuals seek to maintain or boost their income.”

These trends suggest a demand for flexible learning that equips individuals for the changes they encounter in their working lives and fits around their work needs. To quote Overton again:

“Whilst agile and adaptable workers could work things out for themselves, their progress will be accelerated by a flexible, agile and adaptable learning ecosystem to support them.”

Rhys Griffiths, Business Relationship Manager for The Open University in Wales, said the whitepaper showed the importance of flexible learning in an age of rapid change.

He said:

“The 2020s and beyond will see people having to embrace change of a scale and pace we haven’t seen before. This whitepaper demonstrates with clarity the need for flexible learning to equip people to face this challenge.”

The Open University has been providing such flexible learning since its inception more than 50 years ago. It delivers a very wide range of qualifications, from undergraduate and postgraduate degrees to degree apprenticeships and diplomas. Learners also can choose from more than 480 modules to build the qualification that best suits their needs and interests.

The Open University also offers more than 950 free courses as part of its OpenLearn scheme. And there are also specific skill-related short courses, and courses endorsed by particular sectors to help people build up their professional skills in those fields.

Proof of The Open University’s importance in providing learning and training opportunities is the fact that it works with more than 2,400 employers to help upskill and reskill their workforce. And it also has the highest number of graduates who are MDs and CEOs of any UK university, according to research by Forward Role.

Rhys Griffiths added:

“At The Open University we have decades of experience in providing flexible learning fully adapted to our learners’ needs. This includes embracing the latest digital technologies for delivering learning in the most convenient way possible. This flexibility is vital for employers who can unlock the potential of employees around business priorities.”

For more information on flexible learning opportunities from The Open University, visit:

To download the report, visit: