Social media is the “go-to” medium for young people to self-educate on topics such as Black Lives Matter, LGBTQ+ issues and climate change, according to a recent survey.

Digital education company FutureLearn has found that 37 per cent of Generation Z – those born between 1997 and 2015 – use Instagram to top up traditional education and learning, while 24 per cent use Twitter.

Its Future of Learning report, which surveyed participants in the UK, USA and Australia, also revealed that 22 per cent of Millennials – those born between 1981 and 1996 – use Instagram to educate themselves.

But there is a clear generational gap, with just six per cent of older generations doing the same.

Additionally, 30 per cent of Millennials and 29 per cent of Generation Z would like to see an ‘education’ feature included on social media platforms, similar to the ‘shop’ tab on Instagram, the ‘marketplace’ function on Facebook, and the ‘topics’ section on Twitter. 

In all three countries where research was conducted, the two most popular platforms for self-education were YouTube and Facebook.  

According to London-headquartered FutureLearn, social learning is a trend which has been fuelled by the pandemic, and the education world is now “completely rethinking the way teaching and learning is delivered”.

Matt Jenner, director of learning at the company, said: “Informal learning on social media platforms has been growing in popularity for years. The lockdowns, rapid pivot to online for study, work and social activities forced many more people onto platforms that they may have previously used less, or not at all. When it comes to world issues then this is a way to connect with many people who share the same concerns, thoughts or actions as you do.

“We’ve also seen a proliferation in educators taking to digital social platforms and wanting to incorporate different forms of social learning which can come in many different forms. At the root of all of this is the notion that we learn best when we learn from, with and because of others and when we use digital platforms to amplify marginalised voices.”

Jenner, who lives in Edinburgh, is also the founder of Freededucation – a crowdfunding platform that connects learners with funders. 

He added: “These platforms connect global perspectives and they empower voices to use these tools, such as video, images, text and networking to find your voice, connect and learn from others. There will be no one solution for improving world issues, they are highly contextual and localised, however social media connects us in ways that can help share local stories to larger audiences.

“Social media and social learning are highly complementary, especially when the content is reputable. All of social media is increasingly permeable, firstly they bring views and perspectives to a global stage for anyone to connect with. Secondly it connects people over topics which they may have otherwise been excluded, by people in positions of power, local education offerings or to experts/peers who are located all over the world.”

K. Holly Shiflett, director of partnerships at FutureLearn, said: “Adults are increasingly turning to social media platforms to educate themselves, signalling a need for expert-led online courses that have the social aspect embedded within them from the start”.

Does online learning offer similar benefits to formal education?


Online learning has played a crucial role in education since the pandemic struck, and FutureLearn’s research suggests that it is popular with learners. 

A majority of participants in its YouGov study agreed that online learning can provide similar benefits to in-classroom or on-campus education (50 per cent UK, 59 per cent Australia, 53 per cent USA), which is particularly pronounced among Millennials.

Additionally, many people believe that online learning allows for more diversity and inclusion in the education sector.

The research found that there were several benefits that were consistently highlighted, including:

  • The ability to learn at your own pace
  • It’s physically and financially accessible and gives those who are physically constrained access to high-quality education
  • It helps people develop their skills to meet personal and professional goals 
  • It helps people stay informed, engaged, and mentally active

Technology will grow in use

FutureLearn’s survey also explored how technology will change the future of education.

Participants in the study picked out virtual reality (VR) as the innovation they most wanted to see in education by 2030, a technology which, along with augmented reality (AR), could be a “game-changer” for education. 

Josie Fraser, deputy vice-chancellor at the Open University, agrees with this. “I think things like AR and VR are already here. I think they will grow in use, but it requires more people to have the understanding of the art of the possible.”

Millennials and Generation Z are more likely than those in the older generations to be interested in seeing these various innovations in technology, with the exception of virtual reality, which is roughly equally desired by all (39 per cent of Millennials, 38 per cent of Generation Z, 35 per cent of older generations). 

FutureLearn, an online education provider jointly owned by The Open University and SEEK Ltd, offers online courses from universities in the UK and around the world.

Its full global report can be found here.