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Making Online Education and Workforce Training More Effective

October 15, 2020

Millions of displaced U.S. workers and the likely restructuring of industries -- including retail, travel, hospitality and more -- have increased urgency to improve workforce training in this country, according to new research from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Task Force on the Future of Work.

Three new research briefs from the MIT task force explore the fragmented U.S. workforce training system for low- to moderate-skilled workers, as well as comparable programs in Europe, where the private sector is significantly involved in both pedagogy and the workplace. The briefs also describe lessons from learning science and new technologies that could help make online education and workforce training more effective.

For example, one brief features results from a nationally representative survey of 3,673 working adults. The survey, conducted in January, found that half of respondents received training from their employers in the previous year, while roughly 20 percent undertook some form of training on their own during the same period.

"Whether these rates are satisfactory is an open question, but what is not acceptable is that there are large racial, ethnic and educational differentials in access to both forms of training," wrote Paul Osterman, a professor of human resources and management at the MIT Sloan School of Management and a member of the Future of Work task force.

The brief describes creative and successful skill-training initiatives, including programs at community colleges. It concludes with a call for an effective public employment and training system.

"We have argued that if we want to move past isolated examples of best practice and address labor market challenges at both the national and regional levels, it is necessary to achieve a compact among employers, communities and governments to build a real system," Osterman wrote. "The good news is that we understand many of the elements of such a system and we also have a firm grasp on what we need to learn. Hopefully, the striking juncture in which we find ourselves -- a job market crisis and a renewed awakening to racial and ethnic disparities -- will provide the impetus to move forward on building such a compact."

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Paul Fain

Paul Fain, Contributing Editor, came to Inside Higher Ed in September 2011, after a six-year stint covering leadership and finance for The Chronicle of Higher Education. Paul has also worked in higher ed P.R., with Widmeyer Communications, but couldn't stay away from reporting. A former staff writer for C-VILLE Weekly, a newspaper in Charlottesville, Va., Paul has written for The New York Times, Washington City Paper and Mother Jones. He's won a few journalism awards, including one for beat reporting from the Education Writers Association and the Dick Schaap Excellence in Sports Journalism Award. Paul got hooked on journalism while working too many hours at The Review, the student newspaper at the University of Delaware, where he earned a degree in political science in 1996. A native of Dayton, Ohio, and a long-suffering fan of the Cincinnati Bengals, Fain plays guitar in a band with more possible names than polished songs.

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