Changing landscapes necessitate changing approaches to alumni relations and lifelong learning. Experts from a variety of industries offer their perspectives
In a volatile world, even MBAs are challenged to keep abreast of trends and issues constantly – and 34% of graduates were found to have accessed lifelong learning from their Business School, post-MBA, in a recent AMBA & BGA survey. Growing interest and demand for continued learning presents Business Schools with a golden opportunity to retain close links with their alumni. As such, a session of the AMBA & BGA Festival of Excellence explored strategies and opportunities for Business Schools to reinvent teaching and learning among students, graduates, alumni networks, and in their custom and executive education offerings.
Chairing the panel was Ivan Mitchell, CEO of Studious Digital Education, who kickstarted the conversation by saying: ‘I’m sure lifelong learning is on the agenda throughout organisations across the world. I want to start thinking about what the future holds for this space of lifelong learning – what are we optimistic about and what do we think is going to happen?’
Bodo Schlegelmilch, Chair of AMBA & BGA, and Professor of Marketing at WU Vienna, proceeded to present a challenge for Business Schools: ‘Business Schools have to become more flexible in two ways. They have to give a lot of delivery options, in terms of the content they are producing, but also in terms of the focus of their content.
‘A lot of Business Schools have thought in the past that graduation is it, the students are no longer our customers. This meant that alumni relations were more of an afterthought – it was maybe about getting money, or getting someone in to give a talk. That is very wrong, because we need to look at education from the cradle to the grave, so we have to address these kinds of customers in a very different way. I think that for Business Schools, that is the biggest challenge at the moment.’
More active roles
Offering a corporate and employment perspective, Ehab Abdel Hafez, Head of Talent Acquisition for Africa, the Middle East and Turkey at Johnson & Johnson, responded: ‘Business Schools should be making sure that corporates are playing a more active role in developing curricula,’ he said, adding that there is ‘a lot of appetite within organisations’ for this form of collaboration.
Offering the perspective of an MBA and DBA graduate, marketing practitioner and author, Geraint Evans, said: ‘What we must do, in terms of supporting lifelong learning, is challenge the academics, educators and the people who run Business Schools. We have to act now and focus on the fundamentals as we understand them.’
Panellists were in agreement that Business Schools have an opportunity to offer more diverse and innovative forms of lifelong learning. However, Schelegelmilch pointed out that other providers exist in the market and threaten the success of this proposed strategy: ‘There’s a whole range of institutions that offer various degrees and various types of courses,’ he said. ‘In this context, you have to be careful not to just equate lifelong learning with another degree. I think another degree is always nice, but lifelong learning can be as short as a five-minute podcast you listen to every lunchtime. The interesting question here is how institutions can manage and provide lifelong learning opportunities. And how do corporations entice their employees to participate regularly in lifelong learning? I think that is a key issue.’
Keeping up with changes to technology and aspirations
So, how is the corporate world reacting to this change in the need for learning and development, and how can Business Schools remain in the mix? Elisaveta Nojkovska, Industry Executive for Central and Eastern Europe, Higher Education at Microsoft, offered some advice: ‘Education cannot stop with university or with the MBA. The technology is changing, the environment is changing, tools are changing – so keeping up with trends is something that needs to be a norm and needs to be flexible. Being adjustable to the current situation is something that will help everyone be upskilled.’
Gaya Gamhewage, Head of Learning and Capacity Building, WHO Health Emergencies Programme, World Health Organization (WHO) picked up on the current pace and depth of change, before saying: ‘What change requires is for us not to educate or train, but to learn because the purpose of learning is application in real life. Our roles are changing so, even if you’re academically qualified, you will need constant learning and the systems to support that. I think our aspirations also change. Our understanding of equity and human rights has changed our aspirations, and this requires learning not just in our domains but in a complex system. That requires all of the 21st-century skills of communication, creativity, collaboration and critical thinking.
‘All this necessitates constant learning, not just formally in universities but also through informal learning, so we may go to a course or learn from a webinar but there’s also what we learn every day, informally. How are we learning from our experiences, codifying this learning and sharing it with others? It’s this whole complex system that makes lifelong learning.’
Chair: Ivan Mitchell,CEO, Studious Digital Education
Panellists: Ehab Abdel Hafez, Head of Talent Acquisition (Africa, Middle East and Turkey) Johnson & Johnson; Geraint Evans, marketing practitioner, academic and writer; Gaya Gamhewage, Head of Learning and Capacity Building, WHO Health Emergencies Programme, World Health Organization; Elisaveta Nojkovska, Industry Executive for Central and Eastern Europe, Higher Education, Microsoft; Bodo Schlegelmilch, Chair, AMBA & BGA; Professor of Marketing, WU Vienna
This article was originally published in Ambition (the magazine of BGA’s sister organisation, AMBA).