How technology is taking business education beyond borders

Business Impact: How technology is taking business education beyond borders
Business Impact: How technology is taking business education beyond borders

Together with online learning platform Kortext, AMBA & BGA recently brought together a group of senior leaders from European business schools to discuss the challenges and opportunities associated with borderless teaching and learning.

The discussion centred around the transformation that the Covid pandemic has wrought. As well as geographical borders, the term ‘borderless’ also refers to time; with the switch to online, business schools are no longer facing time zone limitations as technology allows students to complete their programmes at their own pace, wherever they may be in the world.

In order to offer this borderless education, business schools will need to provide an intuitive and integrated product that is both fit for purpose and personalised towards the needs of students. This is a key area of investment for business schools, with a recent AMBA & BGA survey revealing that 82 per cent of business school leaders are planning to invest further in digital teaching methods over the coming two years.

How is your business school going to take advantage of borderless education and what strategies are you putting in place to become borderless?

Peter Konhäusner, professor of digital entrepreneurship, Gisma Business School, Germany

“The interesting thing is that for us borderless education started even before the pandemic because we have a hyflex model here at Gisma Business School – you can always join in a hybrid way and we are able to offer students maximum flexibility.

“Students can join from around the globe whenever they want and can work through all the programme topics whenever they want. This is our take on reaching the maximum audience in terms of students. 

“On the other hand, it’s also about offering diversity in different stages – this is about synchronous, as well as asynchronous, content. 

“If students are having problems with their visa for coming to Germany for example, they can learn from anywhere in the world and watch recordings of sessions when they have time.”

Steven De Haes, dean & professor of information systems management, Antwerp Management School, Belgium

“In our case, embracing digital capabilities towards amplifying impactful learning journeys was already in the core of our strategy for many years. Of course, the Covid pandemic has accelerated this journey.

“We are further enriching our product portfolio itself, so we are broadening our reach towards having programmes that are mainly organised in interactive campus learning experiences, but at the same time we are also unfolding a fully online portfolio in a digital campus. Programmes in this digital campus are delivered either synchronously or asynchronously, so in that way we can reach a global audience.

“We are accelerating in hybrid learning approaches, blending the optimal mix for an impactful learning experience of synchronous and asynchronous and online and on-campus experiences. We have also had some visa issues and problems with students arriving on time at the campus, so they have the opportunity to attend classes in a hyflex online formula before they come to Europe. 

“As a result of having digital-enabled learning journeys, we are capturing more high-quality data on the learning journey itself and the learner experience and impact. We can now accommodate the learning journeys and impact on students in a much better way than previously because we are capturing much more data.”

Mark Dawson, director of digital education and senior teaching fellow, Lancaster University Management School, UK 

“Prior to the pandemic, the university already had a strong online provision but Covid-19 has enhanced the capability of the university – and our school in particular – so it is now more flexible when delivering blended or hybrid teaching and can accommodate a number of different pedagogical and delivery models.  

“I think we’re still in a period of flux; the pandemic is not over completely and we are part of a sector trying to find the right balance between online and face to face.  

“We’re seeing different demands for this at different levels of provision. Undergraduates are still largely learning in a face-to-face environment, but postgraduates and our executive or post-experience provision is highly blended and online.  

“I think there’s certainly an appetite here for further investment – there are a lot of opportunities. We’re exploring all manner of things in terms of emerging technologies, such as augmented and virtual reality.  

“In a way, the pandemic accelerated that. The appetite is there to grow this area of provision – certainly when it comes to blended. Blended learning has been around for decades, it’s just that the ratio of the blend has started to shift post-Covid towards a better balance between online and face to face. The ability to deliver that has grown, developed and matured to a certain extent over the past couple of years.”

Diana Limburg, MBA director, Oxford Brookes University Business School, UK

“This is all demand-driven. At Oxford Brookes, the Global MBA has been an online programme since the early 2000s and a blended programme since around 2016.

“The reason why we are a blended programme is that we have students all over the globe and they are all working. Therefore, it is demand-driven in terms of how we can make an MBA work for this type of student; then it becomes horses for courses because different types of students will need different pedagogies and different delivery modes.

“That’s the basis of how you make decisions on where to invest and focus. For us, we need a mixture of asynchronous delivery to make it flexible for students, but also synchronous delivery so they can have that real-time conversation and feel more strongly engaged.”

How have you adapted your strategies to attracting and retaining a more international cohort of students?

Aldis Sigurdardottir, MBA director, Reykjavik University School of Business, Iceland

“We don’t have that many international students, it is more of a local focus. We have about 85 per cent of our students who are local, they are here for networking – that’s a big draw for them and creates a big demand. That is usually the reason they are coming to the programme because they really want the face‑to‑face interaction.

“We have actually taken that direction – we don’t have that many international students at the moment. Those who are international, they live here and they work here – it’s more or less always in‑house. Because everyone lives locally, we have decided not to offer any online streaming of classes next year.”

Mark Dawson, director of digital education and senior teaching fellow, Lancaster University Management School, UK

“I think the challenge here is to embrace the potential of digital education in a post-Covid world, while still retaining that intimacy of face-to-face teaching. I’m not sure that the technologies are there for that yet, but that is hopefully where we are heading. 

“The challenge is to adapt in a way that maintains the aspiration of a borderless education, while trying to steer our technological systems away from the impersonal and towards a more intimate, challenging space for education to happen.”

Yasmina Kashouh, head of international programmes and academics at College de Paris International, France

“Essentially, we did something different, mainly due to the fact we have a large portfolio of schools around the world and we support portfolio enlargement by adding programmes to the local offer of our international partners.

“Our strategy was very clear: we move the programme – we don’t move the campus and we don’t move the students. So we worked with our partners to combine local operations with our strategy. Within these programmes, we use traditional on‑the-ground sessions with the online sessions to support our reach locally.

“We had a lot of challenges when students had to come to study internationally in France. We had the rise of the cost of transportation, visa issues, political instability, Covid – we also had issues with international forms of finance, something that complicated the payments from our students.

“The strategy we use is to move the operation itself – we produce our programme locally and then we can blend together online and on the ground.”

Steven De Haes, dean & professor of information systems management, Antwerp Management School, Belgium

“At Antwerp Management School, our MBA-level programmes are primarily geared towards intensive face-to-face interactive learning experiences, supported by a hybrid mix of online synchronous and asynchronous learning formats. I think ‘impactful’ is the key word here. 

“The whole conversation that we are currently having should not be about the technology itself, but rather about how we can amplify the impact of the learning experience towards the student – and of course – technology is a very powerful instrument in terms of amplifying that impact. 

“Along with amplifying the learning impact, technology opens opportunities to more easily reach the global market. At this moment in time, we have more than 44 different nationalities on our full-time master’s programme, so being and thinking global is already, and has always been, in our DNA. We continue to fully focus and invest in global outreach and impact.

“To give you a very typical example, over the past two years we have developed two professional digital teaching studios that allow faculty to engage in a very interactive way when we have students studying abroad, so
they are not on campus. With this professional digital studio, you can have faculty members teach as if the class were on campus. This optimises the experience for both the faculty member and for the learners, leading to higher impact with a global reach.

“In terms of reaching an international audience, we are also currently building smaller micro‑credential-type lifelong learning journeys, both synchronous and asynchronous self-paced modules, in order to reach new global audiences we could not reach before.”

Diana Limburg, MBA director, Oxford Brookes University Business School, UK

“We had online capabilities prior to Covid, so it’s not about reaching a new market, it is about being able to engage with people in a new way.

“We were doing successful online teaching before all of this happened. You can imagine trying to do this before everyone knew what Zoom was – it makes it a very different challenge.

“For us, it became easier, as suddenly all these technologies were accessible and not just for people based in the UK, but for people all over the world.

“Before Covid, there were platforms available but they were clunky, expensive and not easily accessible. Now, with these platforms, you have a global audience who can use the technology, as it’s even been embedded into their personal lives. People do yoga and have social engagements online, so they have much more of a foundation to use that technology in an integrated way in teaching and learning.

“It is absolutely about enhancing the experience, but it’s also about enhancing the ability to learn. They were learning what they needed to learn before, but it’s easier now to have more engagement, to have more interaction and to have more social aspects through that interaction. I think that’s important and it’s much more straightforward online now than it was previously.”

Peter Konhäusner, professor of digital entrepreneurship, Gisma Business School, Germany

“Another big topic we can touch on when thinking about going online – which is also a challenge as well as an opportunity – is diversity.

“Right now at Gisma, we have in our MBA programme an average of nine years’ experience in the field, which is great. But it means that you have to find a common, level playing field to pick them up and carry them forward. All the students are coming from diverse backgrounds, ethnicities, origins and so on, which is fantastic for networking as many of the students want to have global opportunities after their programme to work and travel.

“But there is also a challenge associated with managing this diversity and this different level of knowledge. It’s great to let people talk about their own experiences – because that is such rich content. I think this is something that is really enhanced by having a global audience, the richness of cultural and business backgrounds.”

What is your business school’s unique selling point? How do you stand out in a truly global education market?

Aldis Sigurdardottir, MBA director, Reykjavik University School of Business, Iceland

“We are looking into sustainability and the use of sustainable energy – that is our niche. That is how we differentiate ourselves and use our specialities and knowledge, for example, in the fisheries industry. It is certainly very niche, but that’s where our natural resources and knowledge are.

“We have a dilemma though, because our students are mainly from Iceland and I think this would be very interesting for an international student, but not so much for people from Iceland.

“That means we are reluctant to go all the way into this speciality because of that. Our students are really looking for a good international programme that is compatible globally.”

Yasmina Kashouh, head of international programmes and academics at College de Paris International, France

“Going back to the business schools’ USPs and how they became more crucial, the differentiation will come from the ability and the capacity of the school to match the jobs that are needed.

“The closer business schools are to be able to train people to find jobs, the better. That is why the traditional knowledge, although it’s important, is not enough.

“The capacity to generate self-determined, reliable, proactive learners who are able to learn, unlearn and relearn – that will remain the main role of a business school.”

Roundtable attendees

Chair
Colette Doyle, head of editorial, AMBA & BGA

Panellists
Mark Dawson, director of digital education and senior teaching fellow, Lancaster University Management School, UK
Steven De Haes, dean & professor of information systems management, Antwerp Management School, Belgium
Yasmina Kashouh, head of international programmes and academics College de Paris International, France
Peter Konhäusner, professor of digital entrepreneurship, Gisma Business School, Germany
Diana Limburg, MBA director, Oxford Brookes University Business School, UK
Aldis Sigurdardottir, MBA director, Reykjavik University School of Business, Iceland

Kortext is a digital content and student experience expert, leading the way for digitally enhanced teaching and learning in the global education community.

This article originally appeared in the print edition (Issue 2 2023) of Business Impact, magazine of the Business Graduates Association (BGA).

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