What is the future of bachelor’s degrees in business?

Business Impact: What is the future of bachelor’s degrees in business?

Undergraduate expectations are evolving under the conditions imposed by Covid-19. Business Schools should see this as an opportunity to change their offerings for the better, says Jordi Robert-Ribes, CEO at EDUopinions

The education sector has been vastly impacted by the events of the last year. Whether it’s the increased dependence on online learning or the worsening economic forecast, student and graduate life has been altered drastically by the pandemic. Inevitably, this has also triggered a shift in student concerns and priorities. As institutions adapt to a ‘new normal,’ students have had their first taste of hybrid learning, and are discovering the pitfalls and benefits of it. Additionally, students that are now graduating into a challenging jobs market are re-evaluating which skills will help them to seek employment. 

This shift in student perspectives is undeniably a challenge for Business Schools and their offerings at the undergraduate, or bachelor’s, level. As such, a reimagining of the traditional bachelor’s programme may be necessary to live up to new student expectations. But what will the future of bachelor’s degrees in business and management look like? To explore this, it’s necessary to examine how student demands are changing and what institutions can do to adapt to shifting priorities. 

The pandemic’s impact

The greatest change to bachelor’s degrees over the last year is a direct result of the pandemic, and that’s the increase in online learning. The speed at which institutions were forced to transition to online learning meant that there were inevitably some teething issues in the use of technology and how students were taught. Students were quick to criticise. 

Pre-pandemic, it was already clear that universities were not putting education technology to use successfully. A 2019 YouGov report surveyed more than 1,000 students on the use of technology in the classroom, and only 11% of students said technology at their institutions was ‘innovative’. Though the pandemic has accelerated the adoption of technology in the classroom, it’s likely that, for many universities, not much has changed in that time with regards to the complexity of technology and how it’s being used.

Reviews from the EDUopinions website emphasise how students have reacted to the switch to online learning. One bachelor’s student of international business in the Netherlands, for example, explained their disappointment at the lack of contact between students and professors online. They also mentioned that the reliance on pre-recorded lectures has reduced engagement and participation in their course. 

Generation Z students – those currently graduating from university – are perhaps our most technologically advanced generation so far. These students want technology that is reliable and easily accessible. Universities must keep up with these demands if they want to continue to use digital technology in the classrooms for their bachelor’s degrees. 

A volatile graduate jobs market

As well as adapting to online learning, undergraduate students have also had to face the prospect of a more difficult jobs market on graduation. Before the pandemic hit, only half of graduates had confidence in their ability to find a job, but this has since dropped to a third, according to a survey of those in the UK from YouGov.

An annual report from the UK’s Institute of Student Employers (formerly the Association of Graduate Recruiters) also lays bare the scale of competition within the graduate jobs market. Its research shows that up to 90 candidates are now fighting for every graduate job. With so much competition for roles, it makes sense that graduates are reconsidering how to stand out from the crowd. For many, this means looking at the value of their bachelor’s degree and how well it has prepared them for a volatile skills market. 

Students are reassessing the value of their skills as well as how they can make themselves more employable. Even if graduates do secure a job or internship, the subsequent job retention has also been down because of the pandemic. Research from graduate careers organisation, Prospects, has revealed that among final-year students who secured a job post-graduation, 29% of them have subsequently lost them. An additional 28% of students have had their graduate job deferred or rescinded and 26% have lost their internships. It begs the questions, ‘are bachelor’s degrees preparing students fully for the unpredictable world of work?’ and, ‘could universities and Business Schools be doing more to give students the skills to rebound from job losses and succeed with future job applications?’

Many Business Schools already have a careers or jobs service that students can refer to during their studies. However, in a period of sustained economic downturn, it’s no longer enough for these to be voluntary. Careers need to be an integral part of the degree. In research from the University of Greenwich Students’ Union, students specifically asked for more guidance on the transition from graduation to full-time careers and requested that recruitment fairs be held throughout the year. More and more, students are looking to their degrees for not just technical skills, but job skills. Those that fail to provide this – especially during periods of jobs market volatility – will undoubtedly see trust in their institutions and bachelor’s degrees fall. 

Value for money 

Lockdowns have forced universities to close and move many classes entirely online, causing students to question their degree’s value for money. Although tuition fees have largely remained the same, many are calling for a change in what they pay while students have little or no access to campus facilities like libraries, careers services and department offices.

According to a 2020 survey from the Higher Education Policy Institute last year, 31% of students considered their courses poor or very poor value, up from 29% in 2019. The Office for Students – the independent regulator of higher education in England – noted in a keynote address in June 2021 that they had received more than 400 notifications from students and staff members since the outbreak of the pandemic relating to course satisfaction. Chief Executive, Nicola Dandridge, concluded that while online learning provides some benefits, face-to-face teaching is equally, and if not more, important for students. 

Dissatisfaction is noticeably more pronounced in the UK, where tuition fees for university education are now the highest among the world’s most influential countries. However, students elsewhere in Europe also believe that the value for money at their universities has decreased over the course of the pandemic, to date. One business administration student in Germany described, on EDUopinions, how their course content has decreased because of the pandemic, adding to other issues including a lack of communication and disorganised staff. 

How can institutions adapt?

From these trends, it’s clear that demands are shifting. Students want greater access to education through technology, to be better prepared for the jobs market, and to get more out of their tuition fees. But what does this all mean for universities and Business Schools? 

While we’re not yet at the stage where universities are set to decrease tuition fees for courses that mainly take place online, it’s true that more needs to be done to improve the value for money of bachelor’s degrees. We don’t yet know the future disruption that Covid-19 could bring, and universities need to be prepared for future bouts of online learning. This is especially true for business degrees, in which elements of in-person networking and group learning that often rely on a campus presence are crucial. Investment in more advanced education technology that can allow Business Schools to come closer to replicating real-world events online is therefore important. 

Outside the trends investigated here, students are also increasingly seeing the value in having diverse voices in the classroom – and online learning is a valuable tool to accelerate diversity in the classroom. While the switch to digital tools over the pandemic has had some teething issues, many students have welcomed the greater access to education that this has brought. In particular, disabled students have applauded long-awaited progress in flexibility and online learning. Now, many are hoping that digital tools remain a permanent feature of university life. For those who struggle to make it to on-campus lessons – because of health concerns or other constraints on their time, like work or caring responsibilities – online learning has been a blessing. 

To further improve access to education, it’s clear that universities should continue investing in online tools, and improving the flexibility of their bachelor’s degrees. This could mean introducing more part-time programmes, or simply broadening course availability so that some modules can be taken online while others remain tied to in-person teaching. 

However, improving accessibility is useless without also improving student support. In one EDUopinions review, a student in the Netherlands lamented that attendance policies did not accommodate those who felt uncomfortable returning to campus, yet at the same time it was impossible to obtain disability support or reasonable accommodation. As long as universities continue with a hybrid learning model but fail to support students who need more access to online resources, they won’t be offering students exactly what they want and need.

In terms of course content, it’s also obvious that bachelor’s degrees need to do more to encourage soft skills acquisition, as well as the technical skills required. Universities and Business Schools have always had a duty to prepare students for the outside world, but this has never before been tested in such a volatile economic period. Improved employability resources could encompass an increase in compulsory careers sessions starting from the first year of every bachelor’s degree, plus an increase in recruitment fairs, both on-campus and online. 

However, it may also be that bachelor’s degrees introduce additional modules on employability in the form, perhaps, of employment workshops and additional activities to improve soft skills. This level of preparing for employment is already available on many MBA courses, where students often complete a mandatory leadership or soft skills module. Introducing this to more programmes at the undergraduate level would go some way to preparing students for the future jobs market, no matter how unpredictable the economy might be when they graduate.

The future of bachelor’s degrees in business 

In the future, it’s clear that bachelor’s degrees are more likely to occupy a hybrid space – partly on-campus, and partly online. Tools like online discussion boards could help to keep students up to date even where they’re not at university, while the increased use of videoconferencing tools will also improve access to global conferences and other international opportunities, meaning a student’s experiences are no longer limited to the country they are in. Bachelor’s degrees may also feature additional courses on employability to secure job prospects. 

The changes in student demands also represent an opportunity for Business Schools to become more accessible and make university education more egalitarian. Make online learning a mainstay of bachelor’s degrees and you also offer opportunities to students who would otherwise not be able to make it onto a full-time campus programme, further diversifying the classroom. Introducing more mandatory employability sessions can also contribute to boosting social mobility by helping disadvantaged students into high-earning careers. A change in student priorities does not need to be seen as the death of the traditional bachelor’s degree, but as an opportunity for innovation and change. 

Jordi Robert-Ribes is CEO at student reviews platform, EDUopinions. Jordi holds a PhD in telecommunications engineering and a graduate diploma in finance management.

This article is taken from Business Impact’s print magazine (edition: February 2022-April 2022).

What can management learn from medicine?

Business Impact: What can management learn from medicine?

Management is remarkably casual about testing the efficacy of its practices, but this needs to change, write Rob James and Jules Goddard

Imagine medicine without experimentation, or pharmacology without clinical trials. It seems impossible in today’s world. Yet, for most of history, we have relied almost entirely upon unproven, ‘quack’ remedies for the treatment of illness and disease. 

The story of medicine is the story, in part, of fake cures in which the unwell were persuaded to place their faith. We had bloodletting, leaches, snake oil, lobotomies and much more. For centuries we trusted in physicians, faith healers, shamans, medicine men and other authority figures to decide what was in the best interest of our health. 

It’s only within the past century or so that we have created a disciplined, experimental approach to answer the fundamental questions posed by any new treatment, drug, or therapy: Will it work? Is it safe?

 These were the questions that dominated concerns around the Covid-19 vaccines. The answers were provided through imagination, exploration and by impartial, controlled experiments with rigorous analysis of the results. 

By contrast, management prefers to rely on market signals to judge its performance and on ‘best practice’ to shape its approach. Imagine the answers to the questions above if medicine had been dependent upon ‘best practice’ to develop its response to the pandemic. Modern medicine sets a higher hurdle for its ideas to jump than business does. 

How confident are we that management practices would survive the clinical testing that drugs must pass to be made lawfully available? Is the faith we place in such practices any more rational than that once placed in bloodletting? 

In 2017, Bain & Company’s Management Tools and Trends Survey found the 10 practices in the table to the right to be most relevant. But 17 years earlier, the rank order was rather different. While digital transformation and economic cycles have influenced such comparisons, for many techniques, there seems to be no reason why their popularity has waxed and waned. Management practice seems to be a product more of fashion and contagion than of evidence and research. By contrast, the knowledge and action that informs medicine or engineering develops gradually, systematically, and cumulatively. 

With management theory, there does not seem to be the same path of progress and the result is a workplace often ruled as much by tradition as by science. Some business practices will turn out to be effective and valuable, but many will be shown to be overblown, injurious, or mistaken. They are the 21st-century equivalent of ‘quack’ remedies. 

So, what can business education learn from the evolution of medicine? How can a scientific approach to problem-solving and strategic planning help to navigate the complexities of today’s business world? 

Experimentation forces us to make our reasoning explicit

In a typical business plan, how much attention is paid to stating the make-or-break assumptions in a testable format? Is it just a set of numerical targets? In each case, we are relying on rather different success factors, with business regarded as either a test of perspiration and perseverance or one of inspiration and insight. 

The experimental frame of mind says: ‘Stop asking “what results do we want to achieve?” and “what outcomes count as success?”’ These are banal questions to which every competitor in any industry will have similar answers. Instead, competitive advantage begins by asking: ‘On what assumptions are we banking to deliver these outcomes, and what evidence do we have that they are true?’ 

Experimentation liberates the human imagination

The experimental mindset is one that relishes creativity. It is not afraid of appearing naïve, foolish or unorthodox. The importance of this lies with recognition that great entrepreneurial ideas are rarely self-evident and can be eccentric or idiosyncratic. We need to stray outside of our notions of common sense if we are to bump into great business ideas. 

Experimentation not only inspires people to be more imaginative in seeking options, but also to be more disciplined in their evaluation. This contrasts sharply with the standard method of strategic planning where little creativity goes into the content of the strategy and yet a spirit of ‘anything goes’ is invested in its execution… as long as targets are met.

Experimentation acknowledges human fallibility

When we start with intention, we move to plans, targets and milestones, missing the critical ingredients of knowledge and conceptual foundations. 

Experimentation starts in the right place – with what we need to know rather than what we need to achieve. It starts with our ignorance, not with our desires. With an acknowledgment of our own fallibility, we find ourselves exercising curiosity, listening to each other, and formulating conjectures. When we ask, ‘what don’t we know that we need to know?’ it becomes the material from which sustainable strategies are constructed. 

Experimentation changes attitudes to risk and failure

The list of transient practices described in the Bain report are often the result of ‘social proof’ or herd mentality. Management techniques become popularised as people seek ‘best practice’ to avoid the risk of falling behind competitors. They seem blind to the fact that ‘best practice’ is plagiarism, with little being achieved by dutiful obedience. The real competitive advantage is the preserve of those who first experimented with the concept or idea. Changing attitudes to risk and failure can make the difference from being a follower to a leader. 

Experimentation encourages boldness to try new ideas and catch the first wave of innovation.It means applying a process in which risks are mitigated and failure is viewed as learning. It allows organisations to test strategies in discrete market segments or small parts of the organisation. ‘Farming the bets’ rather than ‘betting the farm’, spreads risk and creates freedom to try things out. It encourages people to test a wider span of ideas because the costs of failure are lower. 

Experimentation encourages ‘agile’ competences

In science, experimentation exemplifies the virtues of patience, humility, open-mindedness, curiosity, and objectivity – qualities that are rare in most businesses where leaders are mainly rewarded and recognized for behaviours that deliver timely results and solutions. However, an over-reliance on authority, experience, and an alacrity to get the job done in these situations, becomes limiting when applied in complex business environments where imagination, nimbleness and dexterity are required to succeed. 

Leaders that do flourish in such an environment are comfortable with ambiguity and shun control as the only way of decision-making. They are suspicious of shortcuts, compromise and received wisdom. They seek new solutions and different ways of working. In short, they develop a set of skills and behaviours that makes them more agile leaders – they become experimentalists. 

Rob James MBE is the Founder and Managing Partner of a leadership consultancy practice and a Programme Director at London Business School.
Jules Goddard is the leading proponent and practitioner of action learning programmes at London Business School. He is also a member of the Council of the Royal Institute of Philosophy.
Rob James and Jules Goddard are the authors of Business Experimentation: A Practical Guide for Driving Innovation and Performance in your Business (Kogan Page, 2021).

This article originally appeared in Ambition – the magazine of the Association of MBAs.

Making it personal

Business Impact: making it personal

The impact of globalisation and consumerism on business education. Ellen Buchan and David Woods-Hale share key themes from an AMBA & BGA roundtable event

Higher education is becoming borderless, moving from a domestic industry to a global one, competing internationally. According to the European Commission, almost half of all member states consider attracting and retaining international students to be a policy priority.

For students, options around where to study are expanding at no extra cost, while from an institutional perspective, the range of potential customers is increasing. However, this means the level of resources allocated to marketing must also increase, as will the need to implement high-quality and efficient marketing strategy. 

In addition, institutions will have a wider range of nationalities, cultures, and behaviours on campus, and will have to adapt and personalise all processes and services in order to provide a unique student experience to those new global profiles. Currently, students on campuses are a mix of digital natives (the generations of young people born into the digital age), digital immigrants (those born during the 1960s and ‘70s who learned to use computers at some stage during their adult life) and analogue natives, born before 1960.

By contrast, in 2025, 100% of the students will be digital natives. Providing a quality experience for a digital native student will – and must – become a critical decision point in the potential student (customer) interaction with the institution at the marketing and recruitment stage.

Students will treat educational institutions as a regular business from a consumer perspective. This is supported by a 2020 consumer report by Salesforce.org, which shows that 78% of students expect their experience to be personalised.

In a bid to explore these themes, address the challenges above and share insights into the solutions needed to address the fast-changing marketplace, AMBA & BGA, in association with Salesforce.org, brought together a group of Business School leaders to discuss the impact that globalisation and the rise of consumerism is having on business education – and how this will reshape the fundamentals of the MBA in the future. 

Here are some highlights of that conversation. 

Julio Villalobos, Director, CXO Strategic Industry Advisor, Education EMEA Center of Excellence, Salesforce.org

We need to treat our students not only as students, but also as customers, which is how they are being treated in many other industries. We must keep that concept in our mind and reflect it in our processes around the student’s 360º journey. Students became alumni – potential lifelong learners and customers of the future.

Timothy M Devinney, Chair and Professor of International Business, Alliance Manchester Business School

I think students have been trained by the administrative structures of universities and Business Schools to believe that they are customers. I have always argued against that. 

The problem is that when you start taking a consumer attitude (asking if they want ‘fries with their theories?’, as I jokingly put it) we end up in a world in which Business Schools are very transactional, and are measured according to the immediate satisfaction of the student, who may have no idea of the future value of what they are being taught. 

The interaction with international students, in particular, is mainly transactional. They pay their money, do a lot of things, and then go home and hope to be able to get a job. We have seen, in the case of Australia (where international students have questioned the value of their university experience) that this can be a short-term win but, in the long run, it corrupts the overall educational experience. The question I have always asked is: ‘Do you have a transactional model, or do you have a relational model?’ The best Schools are very good at avoiding the transactional model and trying to build a relational model, but you must invest a lot in order to do this, and few Schools know how to do this well.

I have started to argue for a rental model of degrees; it goes back to micro-credentialing. Rather than signing up for a one-year programme where students go through modules intensively in a year, they sign up for a plethora of things. I propose that institutions sign contracts with students that commit to providing them with a whole series of opportunities, for a set of fees, over a period of 10 years.  

The idea that you enter higher education at the age of 25, and know what you want, simply doesn’t work – nor is it realistic. Even if you know what you want to do (or think you do), the ground is going to shift under you. You want to minimise the risk associated with this. So instead of a one-year programme, you have a portfolio of provision from the institution. This becomes very relational and  ensures students don’t forget what they learn because they get ‘booster shots’ that keeps that knowledge from waning. 

You could partner with other institutions to become a portal for learning; some elements you would provide, others you would just facilitate. Different institutions could then specialise, rather than having to be be all things to all people. They could be much nimbler and more adaptive.

Vincenzo Baglieri, PhD, Associate Dean Masters Division, SDA Bocconi School of Management

The amazing success we had in the past couple of years on MBA programmes is mainly because of the move from a transactional approach to a relational approach. 

That was the consequence of redesigning programmes to include more ‘peripheral’ activities, working on the soft relational competencies, and taking care of students from a lifelong perspective. 

With the full-time MBA students, it’s harder, because they are more transactional then the executive MBA students. They apply because they are very ambitious people, and they expect an impressive return on investment. Thus, the Business Schools teach them all the content they may need, even if it’s useless in the very short term. I guess we should take more of a longitudinal perspective, moving from a full-time MBA to a full-lifetime MBA programme.

I see a potential change in our business model, because the one we all adopt currently is still very transactional; we are still based on a very old model. We operate like factories, but we should act as theatres. We are not creating a product, but having a transformative impact on our students. 

Jane E Armstrong, Senior Director, Education Industry Solutions, International, Salesforce.org

Students have greater expectations and are used to a more relationship-driven, customised approach in their day-to-day lives, due to consumerism. Thus, they have similar expectations of their universities. There is an opportunity for universities to further enhance relationships with students and to deliver a more personal experience, making it easier for them to get the support they need – inside and outside of the classroom – and to provide more rewarding and enriched learning experiences. 

As one university president often states: ‘Everything in the classroom should be hard, but everything outside of the classroom should be easy.’ 

This is where there is an opportunity to make a university more ‘consumer’ driven and to deliver a more seamless, tailored student experience. 

In terms of future opportunities, universities need to leverage – and harness – their data. However, that’s often challenging because the data tends to be very siloed and disconnected. Increasingly, universities are asking how they can connect the data across their institutions so that they can have the insights to make the strategic decisions needed to deliver their missions and visions. 

Also, universities are increasingly exploring and adopting new technologies that support ‘cradle to grave’ – from recruiting the right students to their institutions (those who they know will be successful) to engaging these individuals as lifelong learners (the people who want to come back for reskilling or upskilling). Thinking about all these opportunities, universities are fundamentally questioning how to adapt their business models and embrace digital transformation.

Grażyna Aniszewska-Banaś, Associate professor, Canadian Executive MBA Director, SGH Warsaw School of Economics 

I think that digitalisation changes the consumption patterns, the communication patterns, and requires some cultural changes in terms of the organisational culture of universities, knowledge centres, and MBA centres. It requires different values, norms and ways of thinking about the students. I believe in creating communities, because whether we’re talking about customers or clients, it is better in terms of values to create a community where every member has the support of the community. 

In terms of the delivery of knowledge, an idea that we have in our programme comes to mind. Every graduate is able to go back to our School and take any course they want for free – so that they can refresh the knowledge and find out about about trends, gain new skills, and so on. What’s important is the sharing of the experience and skills. So, the students receive some of their knowledge from our graduates; they are practitioners, they can share their experience with current students. 

I think that the changes in the business models are about the relationship, about the creation of community, and being open to the knowledge of our graduates and the students. It should be two-way communication.

José M Martínez-Sierra, General Director, UPF Barcelona School of Management

Right after I arrived at Harvard in May 2012, there was a headline in the Boston Globe saying that Harvard and MIT would join EdX. A number of articles said that was going to change higher education, with these two institutions (and others) giving out degrees for free. There was a wave that said everything was going to change. What we have learned from it is that the fundamentals always remain. 

Education, and our Schools, are providing students with two things: one is skills, and the other thing is a network. That professional network is going to be with you throughout your life. It’s a combination of what we do in the classroom while the students are in our Schools, plus this great club that we are trying to build at the same time. 

I think that the transformation we are going through is in the second part of our dimension; it’s the community we are creating and how this community and professional network is coming along in relation to our learning.

Gerardine Doyle, Full Professor, UCD Michael Smurfit Graduate Business School, University College Dublin

MBA students come to us because they want an excellent, personalised student experience; they want to be here in person and on campus. The experience of the pandemic has accentuated this – students crave human connection and interaction. In the coming years, our challenge is going to be around how we achieve and maintain that optimal experience; which elements of our programmes (teaching, teamwork, and co-curricular activities) will be in person and which may be suitable for the online environment? While our students are with us on campus, how can we provide the best possible student experience? 

This is going to be our greatest challenge: finding that optimal blend that will achieve our learning outcomes, while also providing a personalised learning journey. Conversations with our students throughout the pandemic brought this idea of personalisation to the fore as a feature of our MBA programmes which is very important to them.

We reopened our campus for two weeks in September 2020; however, we then had to return to online delivery due to public health requirements. Our students crave and value peer-to-peer interaction and strong connections with faculty, and so the relationships they build up during their MBA journey contribute to that special and personalised experience. 

Our cohorts of 2020 and 2021 have asked whether they can return in future to participate in new modules and executive programmes, which highlights that the lifelong learning for MBA alumni is definitely something that our students desire.

We create a personalised experience. For example, each individual student has their own mentor – an alumna/alumnus of our MBA programme, many of whom are working in senior positions in leading global financial services, technology or pharma companies, or are entrepreneurs. 

During their MBA journey, our students work closely with their mentor who guides them throughout their learning and leadership journey. This mentorship experience is very important.  

In addition to the classroom experience, and the rapport developed with our faculty, extracurricular and co-curricular activities are critical to the personalised, lived student experience. 

We have been innovative in developing the leadership skill set of our students by enhancing our global leadership programme and enabling our students to develop their intercultural competencies.

Roundtable attendees

Grazyna Aniszewska-Banas, Director of Executive MBA, SGH Warsaw

Jane E Armstrong,
Senior Director, International Education Industry Solutions, Salesforce

Vincenzo Baglieri,
Associate Dean of Masters Programs, SDA Bocconi

Timothy M Devinney,
Chair and Professor
of International Business, Alliance Manchester Business School

Gerardine Doyle,
Associate Dean, UCD, Michael Smurfit
Business School

Jose Manuel Martinez-Sierra,
Director General, UPF Barcelona School
of Management

Julio Villalobos,
CXO Strategic Advisor, Salesforce

This article originally appeared in Ambition – the magazine of the Association of MBAs.

Spearheading change and igniting innovation in an uncertain world

Chess board with a bronze pawn standing out. Symbolic to strategy, igniting innovation, spearheading forward with change.

Representatives of TBS Business School, ESADE, and Lagos Business School consider new approaches to management education and methods for meeting the changing needs of students and employers

Bringing together pioneers in the field of Business School innovation, Chair of AMBA & BGA Bodo Schlegelmilch led a discussion on the trends that decision makers in higher education need to anticipate at the fully online AMBA & BGA Global Conference 2021.

Representing Business Schools in Spain, Nigeria and France, panellists delved into digital transformation and the future of business education, disruption in the sector, and programmes and course delivery can evolve to reflect the changing needs of students and the future requirements of employers.

Panellists also outlined their post-Covid-19 predictions for how Business Schools must prepare themselves for the ‘new normal’ and future-proof themselves against continuing volatility.

For example, David Stolin, Professor of Finance at TBS Business School, described how his partnership with comedian, Sammy Obeid, has helped bring ‘novel perspectives’ to students and to innovate their learning. He explained that ‘collaborating with people outside the traditional Business School environment is very fruitful’, adding that the work had started prior to Covid-19, but that the pandemic had prompted him to find the most engaging audio-visual content.

The idea of ‘making education palatable and entertaining’ was noted by Schlegelmilch with regards to ESADE Business School’s work on the gamification of education.

Chris Ogbechie, Dean and Professor of Strategic Management at Lagos Business School, pointed out that one of the most significant implications of Covid-19 is that competition is no longer limited by geography. As a result, students have few restrictions when it comes to choosing programmes and related materials. Schools, such as his own have therefore been charged with finding new ways of staying relevant and capturing the attention of students outside the School’s traditional catchment areas.

Ivanka Visnjic, Director of the Institute for Innovation and Knowledge Management at ESADE Business School, noted that the industry is experiencing an acceleration in the adoption of technology, highlighting the use of video in content delivery, and increased competition in the learning marketplace. She explained that ‘Business Schools are competing with global brands, head-to-head, with no geographic boundaries’, and that this is forcing them to re-examine their value proposition for students. Visnjic used the analogy of online videos being less like a movie, and more like the theatre wherein, ‘students are co-producers’ of knowledge: relevant guest contributors can be invited to the stage to stimulate conversation, thanks to the new technologies moved to the forefront of learning by the pandemic.

Chair
Bodo Schlegelmilch, Chair, AMBA & BGA; Professor of Marketing, WU Vienna

Speakers
Chris Ogbechie, Dean and Professor of Strategic Management, Lagos Business School, Pan-Atlantic University, Nigeria
David Stolin, Professor of Finance, TBS Business School, France
Ivanka Visnjic, Director, Institute for Innovation and Knowledge Management, ESADE Business School, Spain

This article is adapted from a feature that originally appeared in Ambition – the magazine of the Association of MBAs.

Transforming learning into business impact

A kid with short black afro hair punching into the sky. The young kid is in a blue and gold superhero outfit with a mask, cap and a lightning bolt icon on his t-shirt. This is to symbolise transformation and impact.

Tomorrow’s world requires impactful leadership. Tecnológico de Monterrey’s Ignacio de la Vega outlines four areas of focus for business educators and 10 top leadership skills that they should seek to develop in their cohorts

In a session of the AMBA & BGA Global Conference 2021 that was streamed live from Mexico, Ignacio de la Vega, Associate Provost for Academic Affairs, Faculty and Internationalisation at Tecnológico de Monterrey, discussed his research on the topic of transforming learning into business impact.

De la Vega explained that capitalism isn’t sufficient to combat the Covid-19 pandemic, or even to mitigate its impact, arguing that it is up to all of us to work towards improvement and to harness the positives of the pandemic’s disruption. For example, he argued that the pandemic has helped the ‘world to heal’ and that people’s confinement within their homes has improved the planet’s environmental health, due to a reduction in pollution and waste.

‘The future started many years ago and the pandemic accelerated this disruption,’ he said. For Business Schools and many other educational organisations, the disruption has led to a ‘new model’ of learning during Covid-19, with programmes going fully online. However, this new approach has not been embraced by all, due to a number that include a lack of the appropriate equipment, funding and access to the internet.

De la Vega believes that to build the leaders of the future business educators must have a real purpose and impact on societies and communities through technology, science and research, while also keeping up to speed with trends. For him, four key areas of focus stand out:

  • Building new skillsets and mindsets
  • Fostering lifelong learning
  • Democratising executive (and all) education
  • Contributing to finding solutions to the world’s ‘wicked’ problems

10 top leadership skills for the future

Summing up the session, de la Vega looked ahead to 2025 and predicted that 10 key skills will become paramount for our leaders of the future:

  1. Analytical thinking and innovation
  2. Active learning and learning strategies
  3. Complex problem-solving
  4. Critical thinking and analysis
  5. Creativity, originality and initiative
  6. Leadership and social influence
  7. Technology use, monitoring and control
  8. Technology design and programming
  9. Resilience, stress tolerance and flexibility
  10. Reasoning, problem-solving
    and ideation

For business educators, the biggest challenge will be to keep these at the forefront of their minds and to infuse them into the DNA of their Business Schools, he believes.

Ignacio de la Vega is Associate Provost for Academic Affairs, Faculty and Internationalisation at Tecnológico de Monterrey, Mexico. He also leads its entrepreneurship centre (Instituto de Emprendimiento Eugenio Garza Lagüera). Previously, he served as Dean of EGADE Business School and Dean of the Undergraduate Business School at Tecnológico de Monterrey.

This article is adapted from a feature that originally appeared in Ambition – the magazine of the Association of MBAs.

Changing times call for changing approaches at Business School

Person thinking about change and sustainability.

Nicolas Sauviat, winner of the BGA Future Leaders Case Competition 2020, calls on Business Schools to ensure cases reflect the changing world of business and help enable a generation of leaders that seek ‘meaning’ in their careers. Interview by Tim Banerjee Dhoul

Case studies are a great way to teach the practical application of business knowledge, but must be kept up to date with changing times and the world’s growing focus on sustainability, according to Nicolas Sauviat, winner of the BGA Future Leaders Case Competition 2020. 

The competition invited students and graduates from Business Schools in the BGA network – of which there are now 162 spread across 39 countries – to submit their report and recommendations on a sustainability conundrum facing Nespresso France.  

A master’s graduate of Aston Business School, Sauviat won with a hybrid proposal in support of both inhouse and public recycling initiatives that speaks to the importance he places in recognising the shifting dynamics of business, and of keeping an open mind. 

In this interview with Business Impact, he offers his thoughts on the value of the case study method and the importance of pursuing purpose in both a professional and personal capacity. 

He also outlines why the central selling point of a Business School programme, for him, is its ‘uniqueness’ and ‘how it brings something new and responds to a changing world effectively’.

Can you tell me a little bit about yourself and your professional and personal background?

I come from a family of four children and grew up in Limoges, a medium-sized city in France known for its porcelain and cows. I studied corporate law at the University of Limoges before turning to international business thanks to a partnership with the University of Oklahoma. There, I discovered the thrill of being abroad and have been travelling ever since. 

I worked for businesses and NGOs in Spain, finished my studies in international business at Aston University and flew to Hong Kong to promote cross-sector collaborations and disrupting business models at Shared Value Project Hong Kong – a non-profit organisation striving to build uncommon partnerships for the UN SDGs. Most recently, I joined the World Benchmarking Alliance, an international organisation which develops transformative benchmarks that compare key companies’ performance on the SDGs.

The BGA Future Leaders Case Competition 2020 asked entrants to analyse four options available to the CEO of Nespresso France in relation to addressing the problem of single-serve aluminium capsules that are deemed wasteful and damaging to the environment. Which option would you have implemented, if you were the Nespresso France CEO, and why?

I would implement a hybrid solution between ‘setting up a proprietary recycling system’ and ‘sponsoring a complete overhaul of the country’s recycling system’, as I recommended in my entry. This is for two main reasons: impact maximisation and risk mitigation. 

While investing in the French recycling system is clearly superior in terms of both impact and ROI, Nespresso needs to complement the public system with its own private system until the former reaches sufficient capacity. 

The move would allow Nespresso France to adapt to the new business environment where interdependence, collaboration for innovation and proactiveness on purpose are increasingly crucial to success. I added to this combination my own (fifth) option for Nespresso to become a B Corp. The B Corp certification brings depth and transparency to this sustainability commitment. 

Nespresso’s innovative dual recycling model would be highlighted by a unique positioning based on transparency and collaboration. If applied, this plan would result in two thirds of the cups to be recycled by 2024 and 100% of the French population to have access to proper recycling options for the aluminium capsules. It would also provide an estimated 3% additional growth on the 2020-2023 period across Nespresso France’s operations. 

You are an international business MSc graduate of Aston Business School. Did your experience of this programme help in your approach to the BGA Future Leaders Case Competition?

My time at Aston was fundamental to my developing the skills needed in the BGA case competition. It honed my analytical reasoning and business strategy skills, which were both key to solving the case study. It also broadened my horizons, especially thanks to the palpable entrepreneurial atmosphere at the university. The many societies available, notably Enactus, were a fantastic way to get hands-on experience, for example. 

While at Aston, I learned the importance of having a well-thought strategy, and, more importantly, to act on it and not be afraid to adapt it according to ongoing circumstances – as reflected in my submission. The MSc in International Business was therefore a crucial step in my professional and personal development. I gained professional experience and made lifelong friends there. It is a time I will cherish for the rest of my time. 

Do you think the case study method is an effective way to learn about business and management?

I think it is extremely important to look at real-life examples to get a deeper understanding of business. To gain effective knowledge, you need both a healthy dose of theory and a matching dose of relevant analysis grounded in reality. The case study method is therefore a great way to implement the knowledge acquired in the classroom and to examine the world’s complexities. 

That being said, the way to succeed yesterday is not necessarily the same as would be needed today. Times constantly change – especially with sustainability issues which were systematically ignored before. ‘Business as usual’ cannot work anymore. These relatively new aspects to doing business offer great opportunities – such as sustainable businesses gaining an edge over their competitors – but do require creativity to solve. They reflect the new paradigms we live in, which the case study method needs to acknowledge.

If you were to return to Business School later in your career (e.g., to study an MBA or other executive-level programme), would use of the case study method be something you would look for in the Business School at which you would want to study?

I would definitely look for the practical applications of the knowledge taught. The use of the case study method would be one aspect of that and I would expect each ‘theory’ class to be matched with implementation studies. 

I would pay extra attention to how ‘recent’ case studies are used in the programme and how sustainability is included in every aspect of it. I would also look for how the case study is effectively used – is there an emphasis on one good solution or a debate on its complexities? 

The use of case studies needs to reflect the challenging problems of the world we live in and foster creativity on how to solve them.

What other factors might be important to you, if you were ever to return to Business School to study further?

If I ever were to return to Business School, I would look at its reputation and rankings but, more importantly, the uniqueness of the degree. It is crucial to see how it brings something new and responds to a changing world effectively. 

The ‘why’ needs to be at the centre and the programme must show its current relevance. You cannot study business the way it’s been done so far, focusing on only the old profit dimension of business. It is only one dimension among many others – for instance, people, planet and purpose.
As the ones enabling the next generation of business leaders, Business Schools have to show the way forward and be trailblazers in sustainability.

Can you tell me a little about a favourite course/module, assignment or professor, from your time at Business School?

I can talk a bit about my favourite professor: Kaz Kirollos. He was the head of both the entrepreneurship and the international business programmes and knew his way around in both [Kirollos is now at Warwick Business School]. 

Kirollos embodies the successful mixing of theory and practice. He would explain the theory and its limits before diving into case studies and debates in the classroom. He knew that there was no ‘right’ answer in business but that there are instead shifting dynamics which require an inquisitive and open mind. I guess his entrepreneurship experience was especially important in that aspect as he emphasised a trial-and-error approach to business – something that really resonated with me.  

Your past experience is full of activities relating to work with a social impact. Are ‘purpose’ and ‘impact’ things that you will continue to seek in your future career? If so, why?

‘Impact’ and ‘purpose’ are definitely things that I will continue to seek in my future career. I think I come from a generation looking for meaningful work – not just work as a means to survive. As a generation, we are also aware that we are the last ones who will be able to make a strong impact on many global issues, such as climate change. 

It is significant that we just entered the UN’s Decade of Action. In this way, while NGOs and non-profits certainly have a role to play, the private sector needs to step up in order to bring forth a sustainable future. This is not from a charity point of view. Aligning profit with purpose is beneficial to both society and businesses – creating both economic and societal value. Companies need to understand that, in the age of stakeholder capitalism, purpose is the new competitive advantage. 

While at Business School, you worked on an entrepreneurial project for a product that produces mosquito-repellent blankets in African countries, with the platform, Enactus. What did this experience teach you about the realities of business?  

Being a project leader at Enactus taught me much, especially about constantly failing! Making a project move forward is but a long succession of failures and delays. Once an obstacle is removed, another pops up. In this way, being part of this student-led organisation really developed my entrepreneurial skills, which are required for any business. It also showed me the difficulty of finding the right contacts and business partners, especially in an international setting. 

Furthermore, it showed me how hard it is to implement cross-sector collaboration. The companies we reached out to were really unsure about working with a team of students – which is understandable – and kept going back and forth even with the whole university backing us. There was also a lot of discussion around the project even though we were only mimicking an already tested and proven method. As a result, conducting proper business in Ghana took us much longer than we expected – a common result for most international projects.

Do you think socially oriented leaders can have a bigger impact at the helm of a small startup or within a large multinational organisation?

This is a very tough question, to which there is no definitive answer. Both are needed to drive impact. What is certain is that the private sector has a crucial role to play to bring forth a more sustainable future. Without the private sector, we won’t achieve the SDGs. The private sector needs to bring much-needed scalability to sustainability. Its capacity to solve problems profitably and at scale is indeed key (the earned profits being reinvested to generate more profit). 

On the one hand, multinationals can have a bigger impact given their sheer size, influence and resources. They are, however, much harder to move for socially oriented leaders. On the other hand, startups are much more nimble and can offer innovative scalable solutions. I personally really enjoyed my time in a startup as you really feel you are making a difference. Socially oriented leaders can have a strong impact in both. The true defining element is, in my opinion, cross-sector partnerships to involve all stakeholders in the process and to create maximum impact from every initiative.

Nicolas Sauviat is a sustainability professional with an academic background in both law and international business. He is passionate about cross-sector collaboration for the SDGs and advocates for aligning profit with purpose. His experience has spanned the US, Europe and Asia, working for organisations ranging from NGOs to businesses.

This article is taken from Business Impact’s print magazine (edition: May-July 2021).

Sustainable banking in Paraguay – find out more and enter the BGA Future Leaders Case Competition 2022 for a chance to win a $3,000 USD cash prize.

 

Impacting the community through student projects

Here are two working professionals in a joyful conversation sitting at a table in an office space environment. The table has an open laptop, notepad, books and a turquoise coloured potted plant of grass.

Amizan Omar details the Bradford Business Challenge projects undertaken by final-year undergraduate students as part of the University of Bradford School of Management’s commitment to serve and make an impact on the largest meaning of ‘community’

Harnessing diversity and inclusivity, and putting ethics, sustainability and responsible management at the heart of its actions, the University of Bradford School of Management is committed to making an impact on and serving the largest meaning of ‘community’ – i.e., the diverse range of people everywhere in the world.

Community engagement

This commitment is so important to the School because 85% of its students come from the most socio-economically diverse areas by postcode, around 70% are from BME backgrounds, and because of the wider University of Bradford’s commitment to social mobility. As such, the School engages actively with communities, non-traditional students, and small-scale regional enterprises. This is manifest in the School’s mission and vision statements, which are then articulated in its broader set of actions, particularly through the academic offerings.

The University of Bradford School of Management is the first in England to receive joint accreditation from AMBA & BGA and, in the spirit of the BGA Charter, the School has a string focus on bringing business and students together in learning and teaching activities inside and outside the classroom.  

The School runs various initiatives, including its Career Booster programme – a series of seminars and workshops offered two weeks each academic year to equip students with out-of-classroom transferable skills and commercial awareness. Other initiatives include its Knowledge Transfer Networks – a series of monthly lectures showcasing the experience and expertise of particular business owners to other businesses, as well as students, staff and alumni, and which is followed by an opportunity for all attendees to network.

The Bradford Business Challenge

Another initiative is the increasingly prevalent Bradford Business Challenge theme for business and management undergraduates’ final-year project, where students work with business to solve a real business challenge that has been identified.

The final-year project module for these students requires a 7,500 words dissertation, which can be based on one of four themes Each of the themes – National Industrial Challenge; Global Challenge; Entrepreneurship and Innovation Challenge; and Bradford Business Challenge – involves engaging with a challenge in the real business world. However, the Bradford Business Challenge is alone in being an applied research project that requires students to work on a project sponsored by a business or organisation.

Students opting for this theme partner with the sponsor to find a solution to a specific business problem with guidance from an academic. Sponsors are usually businesses as well as public and third sector organisations from the Yorkshire region, England. Most of the projects are sourced from the University of Bradford School of Management’s longstanding Knowledge Transfer Network (KTN) which consists of around 3,000 businesses in Bradford and Yorkshire region.

The Bradford Business Challenge is one way in which the School supports its the KTN members, on top of its Community Career Booster Programme (which offers probono training on specific skills, such as SAGE 50) and business advice. The idea is to promote seamless knowledge transfer between the School and businesses and thus, enable meaningful impact in the community.

Since its launch in the 2018/19 academic year, the Bradford Business Challenge has delivered a degree of impact to more than 30 sponsors and has helped participating students to develop a range of transferrable skills and improve their employability. An internal study shows that more than 50% of these students have successfully secured graduate-level jobs within six months of the study completion, and a further 30% said that the research skills acquired have supported them in their postgraduate study.

Community impact examples

Project sponsors also acknowledge that the solutions provided by students have significantly benefited them. A local marketing and advertising company that sponsored a project in the 2018/19 academic year, for example, reported an improvement in its profitability. Its project focused on investigating marketing challenges faced by the Financial Advisory Service and led to the development of a marketing strategy for financial advisers to market their services. This strategy is now used by the marketing company to gain more clients in the financial industry. Another case was a project with a luxury slow-fashion startup that is today an award-winning SME on market research, and this has contributed to the launch of its products.

Company sponsors span various organisation types and sizes, including public and third sector organisations. Working with the local council, one final-year project student has worked on concept proofing for ‘Citizen Coin Bradford’ – an initiative designed to encourage volunteering in community projects and support for local retailers. Volunteers to the scheme are rewarded with ‘digital coins’ for which they are entitled to discounts from local retailers.

In another recent example, a student worked with an established charity in the City of Bradford to overcome a long-existing HR management issue in the organisation. This has significantly contributed to the sustainability of the organisation, which provides a range of free therapeutic counselling services to vulnerable young people, families, individuals, and couples living in the Bradford region.

Widening reach and winning recognition

The online platform brought in by the School amid lockdown measures and travel restrictions has proven to be a silver lining for fostering broader engagement with the international business community. Through a network of the School’s MBA alumni, the School secured a project sponsored by a Dubai-based food truck and modular/mobile unit manufacturing company. The success of this project – carried out by a student with support from an academic who is a marketing expert – has led to the School opening up the Bradford Business Challenge to international sponsors. A further cross-borders initiative aimed at generating a greater impact in the community at large is now also underway to enhance the value delivered to students and the stakeholders.

In February 2021, the School was granted Small Business Charter status. The award recognises the School’s enduring commitment to working with businesses and entrepreneurs in the city, region and more widely, and its support for them through various initiatives, including the Bradford Business Challenge. Two months following this, the School was awarded ‘Business School of the Year 2020’ by the Educate North Awards – an awards event that celebrates, recognises and shares best practice and excellence in the education sector in the North of the UK.  

Moving forward, the School has identified several key objectives for the future. They include an urgent need for Bradford to move away from low-skills and low-economic positions towards raising academic aspirations and achievements in the local area. There is also a need to tackle the demographic decline in the number of 18-year-olds nationally and addressing the changing needs of employers who are expecting flexibility, resilience, commercial nous, and enhanced skills in relation to the digitisation of work, big data and AI.

Dr Amizan Omar is the Director of Accreditations for the Faculty of Management, Law and Social Sciences, University of Bradford, UK. She is also an Associate Professor at the School of Management, where she leads the undergraduate final-year project module. Omar is a sustainability advocator and the Faculty Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Champion.

What do students want and expect from the future of education?

The future role of technology and faculty, the importance placed in international study options, growing societal concerns, and perceived strengths and weaknesses in higher education – EDHEC Business School reports on a survey of students in France, the UK, US, India and South Africa

The pandemic has pressed Business Schools and universities to offer students online courses, generating questions about the role of the teacher, how knowledge is transmitted, and the importance of international study options.

The thoughts and perceptions of students in these areas and more were highlighted in EDHEC’s 2020 OpinionWay survey on the future of education, which collected the thoughts of more than 5,000 students across the UK, US, France, India and South Africa.

The future role of the teacher

Among the major transformations in higher education, the adoption of new technologies is seen as positive in the UK (94%), but also in France (87%), India (98%), US (92%) and South Africa (99%). All of the countries also agreed that the introduction of new technologies will change the way professors teach. However, there is a significant contrast among countries in terms of their perception of digital’s impact on the role of teaching staff and how they convey knowledge.

While 56% of French students think the primary role of educators tomorrow will be to hand down knowledge, students in the UK (51%), US (48%), India (55%) and South Africa (62%) think professors will focus more on teaching the right methods for self-learning through new technologies.

In response to the question of how knowledge will primarily be conveyed in the future, students in the UK (42%), US (44%), India (41%) and South Africa (55%) expect it to be mostly through the use of computers, tablets and smartphones. However, among French students, only 21% see education moving in this direction, whereas 41% think the future of knowledge transmission lies in a combination of augmented teaching staff, robots and humans.

What’s clear is that new technologies must help Schools deliver a rich education, giving students greater flexibility and allowing teaching staff to concentrate more on their students.

It is therefore not surprising that the survey revealed a strong belief that remote learning will become more prevalent. Tomorrow’s teaching will be much more than a physical place with a course and a teacher – Schools and universities need to position themselves as platforms and not just as campuses.

Social concerns are rising among students

The survey also shows a high level of interest among students in the social issues of tomorrow. Therefore, it is imperative that the higher education industry reflects on how education can adapt to meet this need.

Quite commonly, the first concern of students is social inequality, closely followed by the preservation of the environment. Regarding these two issues, the proportion of interest among students are relatively unanimous at between 39% and 51% in every country surveyed. Elsewhere, priorities differ. There is a strong desire to raise awareness of gender inequalities in France (40%) and India (30%) but the equivalent figure among UK students is rather lower, at 21%.

When asked how education can help raise awareness of environmental conservation, the top answer among students in the US (cited by 44% of respondents in that country), South Africa (43%), India (41%) and the UK (40%) is ‘by funding and helping projects to preserve the environment’. The most popular response among those in France (cited by 35% of respondents in that country) meanwhile, was ‘by adapting its programmes’.

Higher education and the challenges of a changing world

Overall, students in all of the countries surveyed have a positive image of higher education. They judge higher education as being able to cope with the multiple challenges that are shaking up the economic environment and, more broadly, our societies.

Among the perceived strengths of the higher education system are the diversity of courses on offer and the variety of subjects taught, which guarantees openness and adaptability for the younger generations. But students in all locations point out two areas for improvement: being more international and linking better with economies.

Unsurprisingly, there are some differences between countries. For example, professional integration into economies is seen to be an area of strength in the UK education system (cited as such by 75%), and the US system (cited by 72%). An area for improvement for the US, meanwhile, is accessibility – only 42% of students polled in the North American country think that the education system is open to the largest number of people. The equivalent figure among students in South Africa is comparable, at 40%. These rates are much lower than those expressed in the UK (60%), India (77%) and France (50%).

The possibility of expatriation during studies: an asset for students

Sadly, the Covid-19 pandemic has dramatically affected the number of international student exchanges that can take place, although what is reassuring is that the chance to study abroad during a course is still highly regarded among students and considered to be a real asset.

Of course, attitudes do differ. For example, around 30% of students in the UK and US think that spending part of their higher education course abroad is not a necessity, but this is only true for 13% of students in South Africa, 11% of students in France, and 9% of students in India.

Likewise, in response to the question: ‘Do you think that it is better for a student in your country to do all or most of their higher education abroad?’, students in France were almost unanimous – 85% gave positive responses. The equivalent figure among those in South Africa was also high, at 79%.  However, the proportion of positive responses from those in the UK, US and India were markedly lower, albeit still high enough to conclude that studying abroad is deemed as being important.

Commentary from EDHEC Business School, France.

Post-Covid-19, learning will be augmented

The tools are there to augment learning, as part of Covid-19’s welcome reassessment of current teaching – the challenge is to find the best combination, says Audencia Business School’s Valérie Claude-Gaudillat

Advances in digital communications, neuroscience, AI, and data analysis, combined with changing business needs, new student sociology, and major societal and economic issues, have all contributed to a reassessment of the way we teach. This is a very good thing. 

In March this year, lockdown [restrictions implemented in many countries] further strengthened this trend when the switch from classroom teaching to distance learning became a necessity. It also accelerated the shift towards new augmented ways of teaching and learning. 

We are now looking at a much more adaptive approach to learning. Thanks to technology, the methods and pace of learning can not only adapt to students’ individual profiles, but also to their limitations, choices and desires. In this way, learning stops being quite so prescribed and is able to be more bespoke and, therefore, more human.

Adaptive learning

A legitimate criticism of traditional teaching is that it tends to remain quite generalised. Of course, this is not always the case, but overall it has remained targeted at the average level of a group of learners. The selection processes and the content of training programmes are geared towards this, despite the fact that there is always some heterogeneity within a given group.

Thanks to new digital solutions, however, it is already possible to adapt course content to students’ individual levels. This ‘adaptive learning’ is not new (the concept dates back to the 1970s) but digital tools are helping to make it a reality. Although it is still not very widespread in higher education, primary schools in North America and Asia are already using solutions, such as IBM Watson and Microsoft Power BI, often with very positive results. It is important to stress that these methods do not diminish the teacher’s role. On the contrary, we generally see greater commitment from students and stronger interactions between teachers and learners via those platforms. 

Risks of over-customising learning

‘Augmented learning’ is based on a more systemic and integrative approach that relies on a wide range of learning methods, tools and technologies. Alternating different teaching methods increases students’ motivation and has a positive impact on their learning. These can involve oral presentations, workshops, role playing, problem-based learning, debates, and case studies. 

However, there is a risk that over-customising learning can be detrimental in the medium to long term, particularly when the importance of the collective approach is minimised. Augmented learning must also include reinforcement of collective behavioural skills, and this can be achieved through peer-learning.

Augmented learning should balance the many aspects of learning – face-to-face and distance, technological and non-technological, individual and collective. The tools are now widely available, and the challenge is to combine them in a relevant fashion to best meet educational objectives.

Factoring in societal, ecological and psychological concerns

But beyond methods and technology, post-Covid-19 education must also tackle the major societal, economic and ecological issues we all face. The new world we have all been experiencing since March 2020 offers a real opportunity for a paradigm shift. All of our teaching and academic programmes must integrate societal and ecological dimensions. Indeed, they should be at the forefront in terms of content and across all courses. Since current students are the ones who will influence our future, they should be able to propose new learning methods and suggest new themes and formats. ‘Flipped classrooms’ are already widely implemented but we can go way further.

Finally, psychological implications must be better acknowledged. We cannot ignore the risks resulting from the lack of live interactions and social contact over the coming months and, possibly, years. This is a source of concern and anxiety for students, which must be countered with more empathy. At the same time, it is also our responsibility to prepare students for a world in which uncertainty is becoming the norm.

How will educators meet those challenges? The issues that we are facing are numerous and varied in this chaotic time and there is not a single winning formula. It is fundamental that educational developments are tailored to suit each course and each group of students while involving them in the process. It is not an easy task, but it is essential.

In the end, Covid-19 can also be thought of as a unique opportunity to fundamentally ‘augment’ learning, so that it becomes more relevant and can have an even bigger impact – not only on students, but also on businesses and society.

Valérie Claude-Gaudillat is a Professor and Director of the Institute for Innovation, Design and Entrepreneurship at Audencia Business School, France.

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