One of the by-products of the necessary move toward quarantine from the coronavirus has been the growth of online communication and virtual experiences. With fewer travelers traveling and more of us staying home, creating a heightened demand to discover new tech-enabled avenues to help us work, learn and grow.

To begin with, employees have been forced to bring it on home – literally, as their businesses have closed offices even as work goes on remotely. The upshot has been online platforms for virtual collaboration have seen exponential growth.

Probably the app that’s gained the highest profile in the public eye since the pandemic started is the modest platform called Zoom. From 10 million daily meeting participants in December 2019, Zoom zoomed to 300 million participants in April, and took along with it its company valuation.

However Zoom is by no means alone among virtual meeting platforms; others have also gained ground in the midst of the pandemic, including
GoToWebinar
WebEx
Demio
LiveStream

Like people, these platforms are more alike than they are different. While Zoom seems to be the choice for teachers instructing remotely or any generic webinar group from book clubs to meditation circles, LiveStream is more geared for business executives for whom presentation is as important as presence. It enables multiple cameras and video editing. Some of the platforms have interactive polling while others don’t, and some have screen sharing and call back features, while others do not. Ultimately, the users can never have it all. It would seem the imperfect live world is only matched by the imperfect virtual world.

Reinvent Yourself 
Despite the drawbacks, the evident advantages of virtual connections in a world disconnected by the pandemic extends beyond just maintaining business; employees are using it as a means of diversifying skill sets and thus, expanding their options. With the coronavirus driving massive unemployment and business closings, job seekers as well as those in tenuous positions have turned to technology to boost their employment power through vocational, technological and corporate training.

The fastest growing industries, as well, take advantage of the e-learning as the need for trained personnel in these high-demand sectors grows:
• Healthcare: In a field rich in emerging technologies, e-learning is an efficient and effective way to meet a growing demand for healthcare workers.
• Construction: Once again, technology has augmented the way buildings are designed. E-learning, with its 3D and virtual applications, translates well to practical hands-on learning experiences.
• Automotive: Tomorrow’s automotive technician will need to be more electronics and computer engineer than an expert in internal combustion engines. Companies like Electude offer an interactive set of certificate courses in an easy to use format.
• Retail and e-commerce: More and more consumers are using online shopping as a logical choice to satisfy their buying habits. Here too, training large numbers of employees fast is streamlined by e-learning platforms.

Satisfy Your Curiosity 
As parts of the world brace for a second or even third wave of the virus, we seem to be moving toward an online reality that extends beyond business alone. But a lockdown – however inconvenient – paired with a universe of content that’s virtually unlimited (pun intended) does give one’s imagination a chance to roam space and time to satisfy the burning questions of life: What is the origin of the universe? What makes our brain work?
How do you make the perfect soufflé?

Enter a whole raft of online educational platforms that specialize in learning just for the sake of learning. The Great Courses, Master Class, Ted Talks, Khan Academy, classes from the likes of Yale and MIT, and a lot of other like-minded content offer college-level lectures, presentations and courses that cover practically every corner of human endeavor from better living, fine arts and literature to mathematics, economics and philosophy.

Of course, universities have been recording lectures and offering online classes for decades. But the current wave of virtual learning channels are transcendent, often sublime by comparison. For one thing, if a video is to be successful, the presenter and the story has to be not only credible, but incredibly engaging. Quality scripts and production values play a starring role too; many videos are shot on location and feature some fancy graphics and music. Some cost, others are free, and generally, but not always, the price is a reflection of the sophistication of the production.

But most important, perhaps, is the notion that – unlike that long-ago college course you took – you’re watching this because you want to, not because you have to. And once your brain is full, you can turn off the lecture and go back to the real world.

On a personal note, as a teacher of over 33 years, for me, this is a bittersweet situation. Unquestionably, a talking head on a screen, however charming, can never replace the human interaction present in a classroom, where group dynamics, facial expressions, body language and physical proximity – in short, the ability to read the room – add to the instruction in qualitative ways.

Perhaps the answer can be found in the word hybrid. When in-person gatherings come back in vogue, e-learning platforms, together with the living human and not as a replacement, can certainly enrich the educational experience, feeding the curiosity of a wider variety of learners in wholly different ways.