Continuous interaction, continuous improvement

Business Impact: Continuous interaction, continuous improvement
Business Impact: Continuous interaction, continuous improvement

The evolution of business and management education, as well as the focus on experiential learning to prepare students and learners for an agile, competitive and regularly changing global marketplace, have been gaining in pace for decades. This trend has been impacted by Covid-19, turning specific and lifelong learning at large on its head, but opening endless opportunities for change and accelerating discussion about the future of learning.

The disruption can push business schools to be more creative and expand their academic teaching, research and service offerings while capitalising on the power and reach of digital transformation. One thing should be clear: we should not go back to a pre-pandemic business-as-usual mode of operation. If that happens, it will suggest that we have missed an opportune moment to leverage the possibilities offered by advanced technologies to transform and enhance students’ and learners’ educational journey and better prepare them for the future. A future that will surely be impacted by the growing digitisation trend and opportunities enabled by the emerging technologies of the fourth industrial revolution, including, but not limited to, AI, data analytics, cloud computing and robotics.

Rethinking the future of learning

It’s time to rethink the future of learning through the lens of improving the skillset and capacities required in the marketplace, instead of focusing on legacy approaches reflected in traditional curricula, lecturing and conventional exams, and assessment techniques. More attention should be directed towards creative learning modes, the depth and breadth of content covered, student and learner mobility, on-campus extracurricular activities, and off-campus pre-experience learning environments.

Undoubtedly, in the not-too-distant future, the learning process at one end and the assessment of learning outcomes at the other end will rely on a more innovative and interactive model. This is likely to include more embedded remote collaboration in research projects, opportunities for virtual and cross-border internships, integrated hands-on learning and participation in virtual co-op programmes. 

However, given that the learning environment, by design, promotes peer-to-peer and in-person communication, we need to find the right balance between in-person and virtual interactions. One thing is for sure, the future of learning will undoubtedly be based on a hybrid model.

A holistic, student-centred learning experience

The transformation in learning model will not happen by investing only in digital platforms. It will materialise by developing a holistic, student-centred learning experience on campus and online. This learning experience should form part of an ecosystem that includes a changing role of faculty members becoming mentors; classrooms transforming into roundtable discussions; more campus-wide interdisciplinary curricular activities; and off-campus projects that advance societal impact and support community development.

At the School of Business of The American University in Cairo – a school that in 2022 celebrates 75 years in the higher education space in Egypt and the Middle East North Africa region – one of the primary learning goals for students is career readiness.

Since 2019, the school has been working with one of its long-standing strategic partners, PwC, to ensure that students’ skills, capacities and knowledge are relevant to today’s changing global marketplace. Last year, we also introduced an experiential learning co-op programme. This elective, three-credit course offers undergraduate students the opportunity to get that all-important hands-on experience with an organisation before graduation – whether from the private sector, government, or civil society – over the course of six months, on a full-time basis.

For our school, rigorous assessment has always been an essential pillar through a well-established and integrated culture of continuous improvement among faculty, staff and students. In this new programme, students are evaluated on the basis of learning objectives that are pre-identified by a faculty member and an executive from the host organisation. The programme seeks to provide a personalised experience for each student, depending on their field of study, with the aim of developing challenging opportunities for students to fully immerse themselves and fulfil the learning objectives. 

It is a win-win proposition for both sides. On the one hand, the programme provides an excellent opportunity for employers to identify potential talent, manage short-term hiring needs and enhance their on-campus brand. On the other hand, the process of matching each student with a host organisation related to their field of study ensures a value-added and student-centred learning experience.

Accordingly, business schools should continue to transform themselves as vibrant environments through a series of reimagined and adaptive hybrid learning models. Doing this entails moving into a constant state of assessing risks and leveraging prospects, from disruption to adoption, from local to global, from risk avoidance to innovation, and from offering one-way education platforms to enabling multiple interactive and interconnected learning ecosystems.

The power of learners’ voice and opinions

All these suggestions about the way forward are reflections of students’ (in degree programmes) and learners’ (in executive education and community development activities) voice and opinion, as I recently wrote in Explorance’s Feedback Matters: Business and Management Education Focus Report.

Their thoughts were expressed through continuous interactions with them in focus groups, surveys, deliberations, panel discussions and engagement with student-led clubs and associations. Representatives of undergraduate and postgraduate students and learners also participated in the school’s council and advisory board meetings.

The input of students and learners, together with comments received from the school’s corporate partners and employers, is invaluable in ensuring that the school’s different academic, executive education and community development offerings are able to adapt to remain impactful and relevant.

Ultimately, the future of learning will require an increase in experimentation, discovery, collaboration, creativity, adaptability, inclusivity and community development. There is still a lot to learn within a continuously dynamic and changing global environment. However, rest assured that while the future of learning will continue to change, student voice will be a powerful informer of that change.

This article originally appeared in the print edition (August 2022) of Business Impact, magazine of the Business Graduates Association (BGA).

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