Business Schools Will Use Zoom Long After the Pandemic Is Over
(Bloomberg Businessweek) -- When pandemic lockdowns cut face-to-face contact, business schools—much like the companies they supply with newly minted MBAs—turned to Zoom. The shift online for learning, guest visits, and keeping in touch with alumni has proved fruitful. “You get to create a hybrid environment where some people can join by Zoom and others are staying in person,” says Ilian Mihov, dean of Insead, in Fontainebleau, France. Here are ways Zoom is going to stick around at B-schools for years to come.
Before the pandemic, Oxford Saïd Business School would run a three-week immersive face-to-face program for executives to study best business practices. It rapidly retooled the course to move online—and now has participants from 23 countries who never physically met before interacting with one another.
Some elements of distance learning may be here to stay, says Eleanor Murray, associate dean of executive education at Oxford Saïd. “For participants who have caring commitments, the accessibility of a Zoom session over a face-to-face session is really important,” she says. Murray says she can envisage a more blended approach to teaching, with regular virtual sessions culminating in a physical capstone module or event.
It’s hard to keep students focused on Zoom calls, so schools have gotten creative with how they structure their programs to boost engagement. While National University Singapore’s MBA program hasn’t cut its class time back from the standard three-hour segments, it has dialed back its executive MBA teaching from eight- or 10-hour days, moving content into asynchronous forms that can be studied in a student’s own time, also known as the flipped classroom.
At Columbia Business School, classes are divided into smaller elements. “It requires a wholesale change in thinking about what you can fit into an hour-and-a-half-long class,” says Dan Wang, the school’s associate professor of business. Rather than equally dividing a session up into a lecture, discussion, then more lecture, Columbia is presenting five-minute chunks of teaching, discussion about what’s been taught, and breaks. “It takes much more time to get through material, but the benefit is you have changes in pace and get to hear students suggest things in a much more considered way, because they get the chance to reflect,” he says. Wang’s students agree: “It’s very difficult to pay and hold attention for the entire class,” says Nandita Pandit, part of Columbia’s class of 2021. “He chunked up the materials so we hit on all the key theories, but left it open to discussion a little bit more to give students the opportunity to speak.”
Zoom has created a new opportunity for dialogue in smaller groups, says Mihov, Insead’s dean. “When you’re in a classroom, you can’t just say, ‘Let’s have a breakout session, go discuss this, and come back,’” he says. It takes too much space to accommodate a class of 75 physically, but sending students into digital breakout rooms works. Nicole Tee, director of graduate studies at NUS, has also seen Zoom speed up transitions between small group work and whole-class discussions. “In physical classrooms, you could waste half an hour of class time,” she says. “With Zoom rooms, it’s immediate.”
Many of the businesspeople Columbia’s Wang invites to speak to students of his technology strategy course in New York are based in California. The cross-country journey and time difference used to be a headache: “I would have to arrange a time for them, a plane ticket, and hotel for them to come and stay in New York, and maybe align it with some business trip they already have,” he says. Now he just invites them via Zoom.
The shift to online events has helped the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University foster a closer relationship with alumni, leading to more donations. “We would often travel and go meet 40 or 50 alumni or donors in a reception setting,” says Ben Porter, Kellogg’s associate dean for alumni relations. Now they see 10 times that number at weekly Zoom webinars inviting notable alumni back to talk about their careers. Almost 300 lapsed donors have reactivated gifts to the school since the Zoom alumni events began, and an additional 250 alumni have started donating.
David Spitulnik graduated from Kellogg four decades ago. The online events put on for alumni have given him an opportunity to engage more deeply. “I don’t know I would have even noticed if not for the way it was promoted,” he says. “I didn’t have to get in my car and drive over there.” Spitulnik has broadened his network of alumni from the online events and keeps in touch with many of them through informal check-ins every four to six months—also hosted on Zoom, though outside the school’s purview.
Zoom has allowed B-schools to offer lifelong learning. “We are thinking about opportunities for our graduates to have the ability in the future to come back and take elective courses,” says Luis Vives, deputy dean for programs at Esade Business School in Spain. The electives could take the shape of the school’s preexisting “in/on” masters and diploma programs, where blended learning allows students to study on campus, remotely, or a mixture of the two.
“Gone are the days where you go to school and get one or two degrees and are done for life,” says Sean Ferguson, associate dean at the Asia School of Business. Ferguson envisions a lifelong subscription model for B-schools as they meet the demands of midlife career switchers. Three-quarters of alumni would like online access to lectures and other content from their alma mater, according to a survey by business education consultancy CarringtonCrisp.
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