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Digital Training Experiences a Boost - But Not Everyone Benefits Equally

Continuing professional training underwent a major shift in the first months of the Corona pandemic in early summer 2020. Digital self-directed learning for professional reasons was used much more frequently than before. However, not all employee groups benefit equally from the increased use of digital learning opportunities. It seems the pandemic has not reduced the polarization between education groups but actually aggravated it. This is the conclusion of the latest evaluation of the Corona supplementary survey in the National Education Panel (NEPS).

Employees with Low Level of Education Do Not Benefit

The question remains which employees took advantage of digital learning opportunities for professional reasons during the crisis. It does show that employees with a college or university degree dominate with a share of 30 percent. In contrast, the usage rate among workers with or without vocational training was only 13 and 18 percent, respectively.

"Contrary to hopes from policymakers that an expansion of digital learning would particularly resonate with educationally disadvantaged groups, we observe a similarly pronounced educational inequality in the use of digital professional development in the first few months of the pandemic as before," said Prof. Dr. Corinna Kleinert of the Leibniz Institute for Educational Trajectories (LIfBi), lead author of the report.

Home Office Favors Digital Learning

The digital divide in the first months of the pandemic can be shown by the group of authors even more clearly when looking at home office use. Even before the pandemic, people in home offices were significantly more likely to use digital learning (34 percent) than those who did not have the opportunity to work from home (16 percent). The (much larger during the crisis) group of employed individuals who could work from home used digital learning opportunities in the first months of the pandemic already at a similar rate as in the entire year before (35 percent). Conversely, those without access to a home office were again significantly less likely to learn digitally since the beginning of the pandemic, namely at just 7 percent.

All in all, Corinna Kleinert draws a sobering conclusion: "Despite the low-threshold nature of digital learning opportunities, the pandemic does not seem to have reduced the polarization between educational groups, but exacerbated it. In part, this development stems from inequalities in the transformation of the world of work due to the Corona Crisis. Working people who could use home offices were more likely to engage in digital learning before and during the crisis than others."

Digital Learning Opportunities Reach New Groups of Employees

However, the researchers were also able to identify positive developments. They were particularly evident among employees in occupations with low computer use. In the first few months of the pandemic, these employees used digital learning opportunities somewhat more frequently than before. The authors conclude from this that the use of digital informal learning opportunities has penetrated new groups of employees during the pandemic. However, this could also just be a short-term effect due to learning how to use new work tools such as video conferencing, team software, or learning platforms.

For the evaluation, we used the data of nearly 1,800 people born between 1944 and 1986 who were employed in February 2020 and who have been followed on their educational path since 2009 in Start Cohort 6 (adults) of the National Educational Panel. The report on the use of digital learning opportunities during the Corona crisis was co-authored by researchers from the Leibniz Institute for Educational Trajectories (LIfBi) in Bamberg, the Institute for Employment Research (IAB) in Nuremberg, and the Social Science Research Center Berlin (WZB) in Berlin.

 "Wer bildet sich in Pandemiezeiten beruflich weiter?" as well as in a more detailed LIfBi Working Paper.

All results of the evaluation can be found in the full report „Wer bildet sich in der Pandemie beruflich weiter?" as well as in more detailed LIfBi Working Paper.

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