From primary to higher education, as well as professional and workplace training, every step of education has shifted to online and cloud-based delivery platforms. Aside from that, the changing needs of business and workforces have resulted in a significant shift in the connection between adult learners and postsecondary institutions such as colleges and universities.

Learning from a distance

Many institutions and universities were obliged to move to a remote learning paradigm due to the coronavirus outbreak. However, like with so many other developments, this was only a continuation of a trend that had been developing for some time. Between 2020 and 2025, the market for online learning services and e-learning is expected to expand by 15% annually, reaching a value of $50 billion. E-learning allows school-aged children to study subjects and skills that are not offered in their local area, while higher education students can more easily fit learning around other commitments such as employment or family obligations.

E-learning is also becoming more popular for workplace training; according to an IBM analysis of its own remote learning programs, employees were able to acquire five times more knowledge at a third of the cost, saving the organisation $200 million.

As well as formal education and training, many more of us are increasingly seizing the chance to engage in leisure learning and learning driven by interests outside of our professional lives. Language learning apps like Duolingo are popular, while others like Flowkey and Simply Piano are for individuals who want to learn to play instruments.

The current educational system was designed for a previous era, when children were supposed to train for a "career for life." Learning possibilities were limited to those that could be offered in physically accessible locations, and our formal education would be "front-loaded" – squeezed into our first 20 years. Our current employment landscape is substantially different from that of our grandparents or even parents. Because of the rapid pace of technology advancement, skills can quickly become obsolete, making continuous development of new competences a critical strategy for career and corporate success.

In the face of this tsunami of change, educators and students are shifting to a continuous model of education, perhaps taking ideas from the growing popularity of subscription services in other aspects of life. Another driver is the rise of online learning aggregators like Coursera and Udemy, which offer hundreds of "micro-courses" in addition to traditional degrees and multi-year courses. These are designed to break learning into manageable portions that can be completed in weeks or months. This type of learning is meant to meet the changing needs of businesses and employers in the twenty-first century, and it will become a more popular alternative for students searching for more flexible ways to incorporate education into their lives.