The Digital Future of Education: 3 Insights

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Monday, March 29, 2021
By Simone Hammer
Photo by iStock/metamorworks
To ensure business schools have bright futures, academic leaders must pursue digital transformation, embrace innovation, and let pedagogy lead the way.

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In a year that reshaped our very existence, to say that business leaders faced multiple challenges is an understatement. In business schools, as in all other types of companies, 2020 called for leaders to be agile, pragmatic, and bold. They needed to take decisive measures to reassure their workforces, stabilize their schools’ finances, and ensure learning continuity for their students.

At Barco, we have observed firsthand the impact of COVID-19, as it compelled business school leaders to offer their learners the best remote experience possible. Now that we have stepped into 2021, we are finally starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel. Education has been transformed irreversibly, and business schools must follow the same path. As we reflect upon the events of last year and envision the brave new world ahead of us, we see three valuable lessons for business schools worldwide.

1. Shift from Digital Replacement to Digital Transformation

The year 2020 called for light-speed measures to ensure learning continuity: Institutions had to quickly react to move their teaching entirely online overnight. Early in the crisis, face-to-face learning was replaced mostly by the use of web-conferencing tools and emergency teaching methods to fulfill immediate needs.

According to a new research report from the Association of MBAs (AMBA) and the Business Graduates Association (BGA), 91 percent of business school leaders have increased the amount of digital or online learning opportunities their institutions offer since the start of the pandemic. Furthermore, 98 percent of these leaders reveal that they think that their schools were successful in taking programs online.

The approach of merely replacing face-to-face learning with remote learning is, nevertheless, posing challenges to educators. Areas in need of improvement are emerging. For instance, schools must address difficulties related to transforming courses for online formats, promoting interaction among participants, identifying gaps in students’ understanding, increasing student engagement, and more. Furthermore, as teaching and learning went online, learners have discovered that there is no one way of learning. Rather, learning can be delivered in myriad ways—face-to-face or fully online, hybrid or hyflex, synchronously or asynchronously.

Executive education, especially, is likely to be increasingly flexible and digital in the future. In this category, learners are looking to reskill or upskill to stay competitive in the job market, and they will be demanding a wider range of format options. They will seek out everything from customized, personalized tracks to short training activities. They will demand rich multimedia content; authentic interactions; and memorable, high-quality learning experiences delivered at their convenience. And they will want their educational experiences to offer them breaks from the video conferencing software they use for work.

To overcome the challenges of digital replacement and adapt to new learner needs, business school leaders must shift their mindsets and strategies toward a long-term approach—they must move from digital replacement to digital transformation. Many have started to do so already, with digitalization deemed the most important aspect of running a business school over the next 10 years. Almost two-thirds of leaders responding to the AMBA/BGA survey, 63 percent, believe digitalization will be very important.

2. Recognize that Transformation and Innovation Start From Within

Digital transformation is strongly linked to company culture. And in a VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous) world with evolving learner expectations, business school leaders must adopt an innovative mindset if they are to drive digital transformation, overcome future challenges, and ensure their institutions’ long-term growth.

Innovation requires dynamic, long-term, multilayered effort, and it involves a high degree of freedom, flexibility, and fluidity. To reap its benefits, business school leaders must drive innovation from the top, instilling innovation in their schools’ cultures and values by constantly reinforcing the message that innovation is critical to institutional survival. Institutions need to sustain and encourage behaviors that foster, track, measure, and optimize innovation at all levels of the organization—including human resources and learning and development. Leaders must support this shift by adopting change management tactics that will bring everyone on board in the digital transformation process.

Business school leaders must constantly reinforce the message that innovation is critical to institutional survival.

Among these tactics is to encourage faculty and staff to speak out freely, to help them feel empowered to share and implement new ideas. Schools must become spaces open to innovation not only for their students, but also for their workforces. It will be important that schools create opportunities for everyone in their communities to take calculated risks and occasionally fail, drawing valuable lessons from each attempt. Additionally, they must support the adoption of an innovative mindset through improvements in other areas, including the digitalization of operations, processes, products, and services—all powered by technology and data.

But how are business school leaders currently doing in this regard? Most say that they have emerged from 2020 more oriented toward innovation and technology. More than 75 percent of respondents to the AMBA/BGA survey predict that blended and hybrid models will replace the traditional classroom-based delivery in the next five years.

3. Ensure That Pedagogy Drives Technology, Not Vice Versa

At Barco, we believe that when schools drive digital transformation with an innovation-oriented mindset, they will not only enhance learning outcomes for all types of learners, but also prepare cohorts of tomorrow’s leaders to be agile, bright, and bold. The power of technology will drive collaboration, support successful learning outcomes, and bring like-minded people closer together, which in turn will allow knowledge to cross borders in ways we have never dreamt of before. Digital transformation will not replace the human dimension of teaching and learning but enhance it.

In a business world increasingly driven by digital transformation, leaders will be striving to keep up with the latest technological advancements. Staying technologically agile will be an essential skill that should be among the educational fundamentals that leaders learn in business school.

Over the last year, we have been pleased to see business school leaders worldwide display that same agility, as they helped their communities make the switch to remote learning. As part of that process, many deployed our teaching and training solution, weConnect. Using virtual classroom spaces such as weConnect enables educators to deliver more engaging and effective teaching sessions and bring learners together in active, collaborative environments.

As business school leaders focus on digital transformation and innovation as a long-term strategy, they must first reflect upon the learning objectives and diverse demands of learners. They then can apply those insights as they use technology to drive the design and delivery of the learning experience. In other words, they must place pedagogy at the center of all they do.

At Barco, we have done the same, co-creating our weConnect virtual classroom solution with pedagogical experts from leading business schools and universities worldwide. Pedagogy must power technology, not the other way around.

The power of technology will drive collaboration, support successful learning outcomes, and bring like-minded people closer together.

One of our weConnect customers, Jonathan Hofgartner, is Director for Technology, Learning Resources and Progression Skills, at Weston College in the United Kingdom. He points out that online instructional design should be driven by “your intentions and planning for that lesson. Hopefully, [technology] makes it easier in terms of engaging with the audience and giving them an experience that is as comparable as we can [come] to a face-to-face session.”

Only after reflecting on pedagogy should leaders engage in any in-depth discussions about how technology should best be deployed. If schools are to achieve successful and sustainable results, they should also ensure that these discussions are multidisciplinary in nature, bringing faculty and program directors together with instructional designers and specialists in education, audiovisual, and information technologies.

The true role of education technology is to be an enabler of positive learning outcomes. If implemented to improve pedagogy, education technology not only will enhance the learning experience and results, but also will open a wealth of untapped possibilities for business schools. Educators can gather data on students’ attention, engagement, and interaction with the learning material and other participants as a way to assess their pedagogical methods and optimize student learning experiences and outcomes.

We envision a bright future for education, one full of exciting possibilities—especially for those business schools and their leaders who are prepared to embrace and adapt to this new age of education. When academic leaders adopt the right technologies in ways that optimize students’ learning experiences, they will effectively future-proof their efforts to thrive in a changed world.

Simone Hammer
Global Sales and Customer Success Director, weConnect Immersive Conferencing and Collaboration Solutions, Barco
The views expressed by contributors to AACSB Insights do not represent an official position of AACSB, unless clearly stated.
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