As business schools shifted to online education because of the Covid-19 pandemic, they quickly realised that it was not an adequate substitute for the teaching that happened in traditional classrooms. A new pedagogy is required as both teachers and students struggle to adjust to a new medium. Online classes are slower than normal classes, but the learning is as effective with mind-wandering (the experience of thoughts not remaining on a single topic for a long period of time) by students during an online session is approximately the same as in a physical class.
An advantage of online learning is that it can be used to include simulations that encourage problem solving, and with online chat rooms, students can collaborate and assist fellow learners. This is an opportunity for us to examine which courses require the synchronous presence of faculty and participants to address queries, coach and respond to contextual issues that ought to be done in a face-to-face setting. Those sessions that proceed in a linear fashion and where students absorb concepts at differential rates of concentration can be done online and also recorded so that students can go back and overcome the learning that is missed because it is sometimes difficult to rewind in the class. The crisis is an opportunity for business schools to unpack different dimensions of learning and to attempt to transform some of it into online sessions that enable revision and paced out learning.
Within programmes, the methods of teaching could very well undergo a change. The myriad ways in which problems arise in business require sessions that highlight the ways in which the joint application of the principles of finance, marketing and strategy working together can address issues suitably. As courses become increasingly delivered in an online mode, there will also be the challenge of how to transmit the critical learning that is experiential rather than functional, and institutions will have to find ways to do so. Implanting sustainability issues into management teaching is also important so as to equip students to face the challenges of the day and to understand that purpose and social responsibility are as important as the maximisation of profits. This would require drawing on different disciplines that are not in the traditional domain of business schools such as law, sociology and politics. Institutes will be under scrutiny for their efforts to reduce carbon footprint and food waste and for prioritising gender parity among their students, faculty and staff. Management programmes will be increasingly scrutinised for their ability to disseminate learning by doing and they will have to change the way they assess participants in their courses away from exams to grading for projects undertaken during the course.
The pandemic is an occasion to review the curriculum and to introduce contemporary topics such as how workers from home use their time, the efficacy of different communication strategies when face-to-face interaction is difficult, the implications for business productivity of online networks such as Microsoft Teams, the impact of the pandemic on stress and resilience and the use of new channels to do business such as the deployment of fintech to improve the flow of credit. Domain specific skills in marketing, operations, finance and strategy will continue to be important. Soft skills are also becoming vital as growing specialisation requires the ability to collaborate and build relations of trust and accountability. Prized managers will be those who regulate their work-life balance, and are able to live with the experience of failure as closures and losses associated with the transformation of business take place. The facility for entrepreneurship and an innovative mindset will be an advantage for managers as firms reinvent themselves to focus on addressing how to become technology driven.
As internationalisation proceeds unabated, there will also be a call for managers who have a cultural agility to perform in cross-cultural situations. They would require the ability of empathy so they may fit seamlessly into multicultural teams and be able to work with people who have markedly different lives from their own. The ability to work in a team will be a skill that is prized as increasing specialisation and skills require the ability to understand, integrate and oversee what specialist engineers, data scientists, biotechnologists, software experts and other folks are doing in organisations. Problem solving will require excellent communication abilities so that various functionalities that operate are able to realise how and why they contribute to the overall functioning of an organisation.
The composition of business school programme portfolios is going to be reconsidered in the face of the pandemic. Executive education is dependent on the economic cycle and when recession strikes, the first thing corporates do is to cut down on the cost of training. As the economy recovers, executive education income will rise. Executive education is a high reward, high risk business and customised programmes can be highly profitable. In contrast, during a slump, MBA programmes usually receive more applications as laid off and other employees use the downturn to reskill. Academic institutions will have to refocus the emphasis they give to executive education against the master’s programmes in management. Shorter courses that are part-time and online and which can be adapted to suit work and family life could well see a rise in popularity. Online teaching will see competition from new forms of organisation such as tech ventures that will not have the overhead of a campus to hold them back and can grab the business away from traditional institutes. A good example is Jolt that runs a “Not an MBA” programme in London and Tel Aviv.
Finally, academic institutes would benefit from using the occasion to take the long view and to focus on their students who would be disappointed that they are not going to get to take courses on campus. Students should be nudged to take control of the situation and make the best of it, to be proactive and participative, and to speak up in class and communicate their difficulties to faculty and the administration. They have to negotiate with family over the use of the internet and to ensure that they have adequate bandwidth and that others at home are not downloading large files during sessions. Even before Covid-19, we lived in an age of uncertainty and since then it has become even more imperative that we stay focused on how to handle and be relevant in the face of uncertain contingencies.