The Future Needs to Be Now: The pandemic-driven evolution of accessible work-based learning opportunities for all

Concurrent Session 8
Equity and Inclusion

Brief Abstract

The pandemic accelerated everyone's plans to “go digital”. However, the benefits of new, virtual work-based learning options for experiential learning over traditional in-person formats will extend far beyond the lockdown. By bridging the gap between learning and work online, we create more accessible, scalable options for learners of all backgrounds.

Extended Abstract

The Future of Work can’t wait. The pandemic forced everyone to accelerate their plans to “go digital,” especially educators and learners facing graduation in the midst of social and economic uncertainty. While classes moved online and campuses remained ghost towns, we saw an alarming but not unexpected decline in in-person internships and co-op opportunities. As a bridge between learning and practical application, these experiential learning opportunities were crucial to preparing learners for the first or next step in their careers. With social distancing and lockdown policies in strict enforcement, the only option was virtual.

Even before the pandemic, only 10% of Americans reported having participated in such an opportunity - this number is even less for underserved learners in remote communities and minority groups. The mandatory and expansive move to virtual therefore opened up new possibilities in making these valuable and previously less accessible experiences more equitable in a digital format.

In this session, we explore and analyze successful cases where academic, industry, and government partnerships stepped up during unprecedented times to accelerate the adoption of virtual internships and experiential learning projects to help learners in need.

Practitioners and enthusiasts will have an opportunity to discuss challenges and opportunities in making experiential education accessible, and scalable, for underserved learners.

Each case will be kicked off with an open discussion on existing or emerging barriers for a specific learner population. After presenting one “successful” program, the audience will be invited to share their experiences with tackling the same issue and their challenges and successes. We will also visit how the learners and solution(s) were influenced by the lasting impact of the pandemic, and how the benefits of a new virtual model can - or already has - extend beyond social distancing.

For example, the presenter will give context for an impacted learner population such as retail workers (disproportionately women) displaced due to the closing of brick and mortar stores, and why they can be identified as a potential underserved learner population. The audience will have an opportunity to open free discussion on similar potential learner populations who are facing similar challenges of needing to reskill quickly for an alternative career. The presenter will then introduce one possible solution - a government funded program for reskilling diverse women impacted by the retail crash for customer care roles in IT. The audience is then invited to share programs at their institutions that could potentially serve such a learner population.

Participants will leave the session with new ideas and practical tips on identifying underserved learners, and scaling equitable experiential education options at their institutions beyond the pandemic.