Virus re-engineers how Americans learn and work

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WASHINGTON (Gray DC) - As coronavirus upends our daily lives and threatens our health, our homes are transformed into schools and offices.

As coronavirus upends our daily lives and threatens our health, our homes are transformed into schools and offices. Researchers say the national experiment may redefine what's 'normal' all three settings after the crisis. (Source: Gray DC)

About 17 million Americans are unemployed, most financial victims of the coronavirus. Many of those still holding jobs will perform them from home.

It's a national experiment captivating researchers who made careers measuring the impact of distance between co-workers.

"I love this stuff, it's my life," said retired U.C. Irvine Prof. Judy Olson.

She and her husband find not all work should be done at a distance; the cloud can't compete with brainstorming or troubleshooting in person.

But, she said little is lost when spreading information, like in a video presentation, and predicts parts of your job may never return to the office.

"People are seeing all kinds of things that they can do that they never thought of before," she said, "so, I think a lot's going to stick."

Experts like Olson said how well work works at home depends heavily on what home is like.

Education researchers like Thomas Toch said the same is true for school, but, "you can assume that less learning is going to take place."

Toch directs an independent educational think tank -- FutureEd -- within Georgetown University's McCourt School of Public Policy. He said remote learning is testing school systems and argues educators ought to simplify their lesson plans to help students get the most out of the rest of the year.

By the fall, Toch expects achievement gaps to get wider, and more strain on school budgets.

"We're going to have to think - as a nation - about how to catch kids up," he said of learning opportunities lost to the virus.

One potential old-school option for catching up: extra classes which could take place in the fall, winter, spring and summer.

Click on the links in the video tab above to watch our full interviews with both experts.

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