Online Learning Is a Boon for Small Towns and Small Startups


small town online learning

Depot Town, Michigan. Image source: Cmadler via Wikimedia Commons

In today’s virtual world, the next great business idea need not come from California’s Silicon Valley or New York City’s Silicon Alley. It could come from a silicon cornfield, digital bayou, or mobile rustbelt in any one of thousands of tiny rural regions or small towns across America, towns that may have lost a past glory or never thrived because of a lack of employment opportunities. With online learning programs offering the ability to train adults to do in-demand careers, people throughout the country now have the same inroads to specialized learning and potential innovation available to residents of big cities like New York, San Francisco, Chicago, Seattle, and Boston.

Adult learning programs are leveling the map

Several current trends make small towns an increasingly attractive and feasible place to headquarter a digital business. First, there is increased access to quality online adult education programs. “Although in-person job training and adult education opportunities are more difficult to find in rural areas, distance education and online training via computer technology allows rural residents to receive training in a wide variety of fields.” says the Rural Assistance Center’s website. The organization was created by the US Department of Health and Human Services to provide information and programs to rural communities and stakeholders.

Online learning programs are already helping to support children’s education in rural areas. Data from K-12 grade programs shows that online learning and blended classrooms have allowed schools to expand course offerings in advanced math, computer programming and foreign languages, according to the International Association for K-12 Online Learning.

The digital and information technology field is booming

Another significant trend is the rise in demand for information technology and digital workers. By the year 2020, jobs in the computer field will increase by 22% from 2012, according to projections by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. With plenty of online learning options for computer programmers, designers, and project managers, more people can be trained to meet these job demands. Find the right program and you can train your own skilled workforce within months, with no previous training necessary.

Small town businesses pay small town prices

Labor and overhead costs in rural areas make small towns a more feasible option for business owners. With the ability to work and ship to and from anywhere, companies need not be established in the biggest cities. (For just one example, look to the rise in digital marketing agencies in far flung towns like Neenah, Wis., Battle Creek, Mich., or Austin, via AdAge.) These are spots where entrepreneurs can start up with less capital.

A new law aims to help pay for it

Finally, entrepreneurs in rural America can take advantage of the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA), which will go into effect beginning in July of 2015. The act is designed to support programs that train individuals with marketable skills, so it may help bring funding to support online and vocational training for individuals in rural areas. If you are an entrepreneur living in a small town, this could mean government funding to help train your potential staff.

Remember, these trends are not just good for business, they are good for the towns. The little training can change everything, according to the RAC: “A skilled rural workforce increases the scope of locally available professional services for all residents, improves employee (and resident) retention, and makes it easier for employers to fill open positions.” It’s a gift to any town looking to show what it’s made of.

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