At the MERIT Higher Education Summit in Lisbon last month, change was in the air. As executives and business school representatives mingled over Pastéis de Nata and espresso pods aplenty, the conversation was geared towards one thing: lifelong learning and the future of work.
Online learning and technology, it seems, will impact heavily on the executive education space in the coming years, revolutionizing the way we approach the development of our personal and professional skills.
For Carlo Giardinetti, associate dean of Business School Lausanne, that raises an important question.:
“How do we redesign the on-campus experience knowing that the importance of technology and off-campus learning will continue to grow?”
At Business School Lausanne in Switzerland, blended learning is now an intrinsic part of both the MBA and Executive MBA—the on-campus campus experience takes place over three days of intense collaborative study; 15 days beforehand, students are sent a wealth of material online.
“We don’t deliver knowledge when you come to campus, we create learning experiences where you actively learn,” Carlo explains.
He is adamant that learning this way helps to consolidate the three pillars of education—knowing, doing, and being—as students don’t spend time on campus being spoon-fed theory, they instead arrive ready to discuss and engage with their peers.
Meeting face-to-face is an element of executive education that should remain—even if combined with interactive, online study—and, Carlo admits, that will form the basis for business education in the years to come.
“I envision in the future almost a kind of pop-up campus,” he muses, “where you have teams of learning facilitators who can reach out to [business school students] and start [their learning] from phase two—the doing and being.
“You won’t need to focus on the knowledge as that will have already been transferred [beforehand].”
Nicolas Lemoine, executive education director at HEC Paris and in charge of the school’s executive education custom programs, has seen first-hand the impact digitization of education is having on his school.
Working on the custom programs—individually tailored education packages for companies—in early 2017, Nicolas says around 40% of his clients were looking to incorporate a digital portion into their learning.
Just a year later, and he says 100% of his clients are seeking digital learning as part of their custom program. “Today, if you’re not delivering online content, you are no longer on the radar for prospective clients,” he admits.
Will technology eventually replace on-campus interaction?
“I don’t think so,” says Nicolas, “nothing can replace face-to-face and the proximity of a professor to his students.”
“I believe, [though], that in the next two to three years we could include virtual reality [in the curriculum], and people will feel as if they are in the same classroom as one another.”
Such a hypothesis highlights the intrinsic link between technology and educational development—the speed at which the world is changing means that learning pathways need constantly be paved.
Nicolas recalls a conversation he had last summer with a friend—a CEO of a CAC 40 company—who raised his concerns about his past education being rendered outdated.
“He said to me, ‘you know, Nicolas, I just realized now, that despite my initial education, which I thought would be sufficient for my career, I feel I need a refresh because of the magnitude [and speed] of change today.’
“I think this story will repeat and echo in many other industries,” Nicolas adds, “so at HEC Paris we are launching a project for lifelong-learning.”
As estimates put the number of brains missing from the job market by 2030 at 60-to-90 million, Nicolas explains, “there will be a war for talent, and one of the weapons that corporations can use is to offer efficient, interesting, developing learning pathways.”
That means people need to have more intimate control over their own learning, with microlearning—quick-fire bursts of knowledge multiple times per day, through video lectures, or podcasts, for example—becoming ever more prominent, as executives make the most of every spare opportunity they can to continue their education.
“Classical business schools like us need to work on this,” admits Tamara Traba, associate director of business development at ESADE Business School, Spain.
“The new generation of managers are arriving, and everything is changing so fast that we [need] to be ahead on innovation […] we cannot do it in the classical style as we have done in the past.”
Tamara goes one step further than Carlo and Nicolas, suggesting that in “maybe ten years there [will be] no physical campus.”
If that is the case, then it opens the door for interactive collaboration between business schools, that should draw on their own areas of expertise to develop programs from which students can pick and choose the modules that suit their development best.
“It is important [for us] to collaborate with other business schools,” Tamara concludes.
“Who wants to survive [must] collaborate, and it’s necessary to make big investments in technology and online education.”