One of the most striking effects of this year-long pandemic has been the remarkable shift to the online world. Many Boomers were already comfortable communicating digitally, getting information from websites and ordering products online, but there has been a virtual explosion (pun intended) of online everything lately. Just a few examples:
- The e-commerce increases for such retailers as Target and Walmart are breathtaking -- not to mention Amazon, whose revenue has soared into the stratosphere during the pandemic.
- Online grocery, food delivery and restaurant takeout orders have skyrocketed. Many of us (myself included) have tried grocery delivery services for the first time. Some of the restaurants in my local community have been very creative in offering specially created takeout meals, making them easy to order online.
- "Zooming" has become a common verb. I've attended countless webinars, meetings and online classes via Zoom. While it isn't always an ideal experience, it has been a safe haven replacement for in-person events. Kudos to organizations such as my local OLLI College for Seniors, which has managed to replace its in-person classes with online classes for all semesters.
For Boomers, one of the most enriching avenues has been online education. In "Remote Learning Isn't Just for Kids," a recent article in The New York Times, MIT AgeLab research associate Luke Yoquinto tells Kerry Hannon, the "growth of older age demographics will translate to new demand for enrichment in the form of digital education." He observes, “There are already tons of people who, once upon a time, by dint of age or circumstance, wouldn’t traditionally have gotten the chance to partake in education, but can now sign up for free online courses.”
Ironically, online education may be one of the great side benefits for Boomers of being isolated by the pandemic. It may have forced many of us to discover online courses we would otherwise have overlooked. Online education has become far more sophisticated: A course can be on-demand, so it can be consumed any time it's convenient for the learner. Live courses can be streamed from anywhere to anywhere, even with multiple guest speakers and elaborate audiovisual presentations, including video. The only limiting factor is the learner's internet connection, but access to broadband is increasingly common.
Online education isn't just for recreational learning, either. There are numerous online programs that lead to higher education degrees or professional certificates. For Boomers, that could mean new job opportunities or even alternative careers. Boomers interested in starting their own business will also find online training available; for example, the above-referenced article mentions three possibilities: GetSetUp, Blissen, and Work for Yourself@50+ from AARP.
Boomers who have continued to work through the pandemic may have experienced another big online shift -- the shift to working remotely. Some jobs could not easily be transitioned to online work, but for those Boomers who have been able to work from home and remain employed, remote work has been a godsend. In fact, there are many workplace efficiency analysts who believe remote working may end up being a permanent change.
If you're looking for a silver lining to the COVID-19 pandemic, the online shift may be it.