Could virtual learning be setting students up for a more successful future?

Students in all levels of education are experiencing virtual learning as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. In March, The New York Times surveyed students for opinions pertaining to remote learning[1]. Though most who were questioned had reservations about the inability to be in a classroom environment, a silver lining is emerging as it becomes more likely that many companies will maintain some level of remote work in their business models moving forward.

The outbreak of COVID-19 gave rise to public health concerns and strategies to limit unnecessary exposure to the disease, one of which being remote employment. In a Gartner survey from June of this year, 82% of companies planned on offering a remote work option for their employees.[2] Prior to this ‘new normal’, a typical workday included waking up and commuting to the office but as the pandemic lingers it is becoming increasingly unlikely that companies will return to that structure soon. It is estimated that, by the end of 2021, 25-30% of the workforce will be working from home for multiple days each week.[3]

Fulltime jobs are not in high demand anymore. There has been a recent increase in gig economy popularity as people shift towards the flexibility that accompanies independent opportunities. A recent article by Forbes claims that “there are over 57 million freelancers working in the United States alone” and that that number is expected to increase.[4] This rise in contracting is beneficial to companies who can outsource work from across the country, thus accounting for the upward trend in dispersed teams within business models. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that the chance of facing changes in employment is less for those who are able to telework and that about 45% of United States employment falls within occupations that can feasibly implement such procedures. Simply put, the future of business is not in the office.[5]

So, what does this mean for students? By partaking in distanced working children are becoming accustomed to the challenges that arise from online interaction and building skills that will allow them to succeed in this educational format. According to the World Economic Forum, students are being prepared with “the kind of organizational acumen, emotional intelligence and self-discipline needed for modern careers, particularly those that allow for the growing trend of working in remote, distributed teams.”[6] It is difficult to leave an interview without being asked about different skills that one possesses and how they can apply them to the job in question. The next generation now has a naturally built in answer, in that they are flexible, adaptable, and able to manage their time to produce effective output, all skills that are ranked highly amongst employers.[7] Not to mention, the level of technical ability that this generation is being equipped with. As the United States continues its progression in technological advancement, it becomes increasingly imperative that individuals have basic competence in automation. More time spent in a Webex classroom equates to less accidental encounters with the mute button as a professional.

[1] https://www.nytimes.com/2020/03/30/learning/has-your-school-switched-to-remote-learning-how-is-it-going-so-far.html

[2] https://www.gartner.com/en/newsroom/press-releases/2020-07-14-gartner-survey-reveals-82-percent-of-company-leaders-plan-to-allow-employees-to-work-remotely-some-of-the-time

[3] https://globalworkplaceanalytics.com/work-at-home-after-covid-19-our-forecast

[4] https://www.statista.com/topics/4891/gig-economy-in-the-us/

[5] Changes in CPS employment and unemployment statistics, by ability to telework and industry exposure, February–April 2020

[6] https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2020/09/unexpected-benefits-virtual-education/

[7] https://www.ibm.com/thought-leadership/institute-business-value/report/closing-skills-gap