Business schools must continue to develop their digital ecosystems, to help prepare learners for a fast-changing and digitally-charged business environment, say Mike Cooray and Rikke Duus.
Over the last two years, the global pandemic has taught us that all businesses must evolve rapidly to meet new consumer and citizen demands. It is evident that those organisations that had already embraced digital technologies were able to race ahead, while others scrambled to find new digital business models to ensure their survival.
Similarly, many business schools around the world made significant strides to meet the needs of their digital learners. The creation of virtual campuses, as seen at Neoma Business School, and fully equipped digital suites adopted by IMD, are examples of how some business schools have taken the opportunity to experiment with digital delivery and engagement platforms to create immersive and flexible programmes that can reach global audiences. However, not all business schools have taken the opportunity to enhance their digital capabilities or identify new methods for using digital technologies to transform their educational offers and degree structures.
As for any other organisation, it is a significant undertaking for business schools to digitally transform systems, processes, and programme portfolios alongside digital upskilling of faculty and staff. We have identified three commonly known challenges that act as barriers for business schools’ digital transformation:
Lack of digital competences amongst faculty to re-design modules, programmes, educational content, and delivery modes using digital technologies and platforms.
Restricted investment in digital technologies over the years to provide learners with the required digital and hybrid modes of learning and engagement.
Rigid internal structures that prevent swift and appropriate changes at programme and department levels to benefit from the opportunities that digital technologies present.
In this article, we present the four-stage ‘Digital Learner Experiences’ (DLE) framework that can assist business schools to accelerate their digital transformation in the new age of heightened learner connectivity, and given the desire for more flexible and business-relevant learning experiences.
The article draws on our experiences of designing and delivering digital programmes and courses during the last 10+ years at universities and business schools in the UK, Denmark, and Switzerland. In the last two years, we have intensified our design and delivery of digital learning engagements across undergraduate, postgraduate, MBA, and executive programmes. We have experimented with digital technologies and platforms to deliver impactful DigitalHacks, asynchronous educational video content, and high-intensity collaborative live online sessions.
The DLE framework contains four stages, with ‘Enhance’ as the first stage, and ‘Evolve’ as the last. The four stages follow progressive logic whereby transformation and adaptation increase for each stage. The first two stages, ‘Enhance’ and ‘Engage’, focus on the creation of digital learning initiatives and programmes that business schools can develop in-house to ensure their educational offers are aligned to current and future learner and employer demands. The subsequent stages, ‘Extend’ and ‘Evolve’, can be attained through collaborations and partnerships with other business schools, external organisations, and digital platform providers to create business immersions and life-long learning programmes.
The primary objective at the ‘Enhance’ stage is to enhance current learning experiences and skills development for the core group of learners with whom the business school engages. While some business schools have introduced a gradual return to on-campus teaching, many are continuing to teach online through a combination of hybrid and asynchronous delivery styles. Digital education in business schools is here to stay and therefore it is critical that business schools now seek to further enhance their digital education offers.
The focus is on enhancing current programmes and educational offers to ensure optimal engagement with learners and that relevant digital skills development is incorporated into programmes and modules.
To facilitate this, the business school needs to embrace digital experimentation and create opportunities and support systems for faculty to become digitally enabled by acquiring new digital competences and exploring new modes of learner interaction.
We have embraced this opportunity to further develop our educational practices and approaches for a digital learning environment. On the modules we design across subjects such as digital strategy and transformation, digital customer engagement, dynamic organisations, and urban transformation, we purposely make use of multiple digital platforms and software.
We also acquired video recording, editing and production skills to develop impactful asynchronous video content in a documentary style that blends our own presentation of subject knowledge and academic frameworks with real-world business examples, the latest media coverage, CEO interviews, reflection questions and activities to proactively engage the students.
At the ‘Engage’ stage of the DLE framework, the focus is on engaging diverse learner groups through the design of new digital learning experiences. Here it becomes possible for business schools to reach new learner segments, beyond the core student groups, with digital programmes and learning experiences if faculty have acquired and shared digital competences and adopted a joined-up approach to digital learning. This process needs to be supported by structural agility to review current educational offers and introduce new educator-led digital programmes that broaden and reach international learner audiences, part-time students and executive learners, for example on Degree Apprenticeship programmes in the UK.
There are significant barriers to innovation in higher education. For example, the prolonged time it takes to get a new educational offer to market and the often risk-averse and conservative mindset that influences management and other decision-makers willingness to challenge the status quo. Business schools would benefit from adopting a more entrepreneurial mindset and disrupting conventional practices and beliefs about what a business school should be. While business schools have enjoyed their privileged position of having degree awarding powers, learners now have access to an array of non-traditional education and training providers including consultancies (e.g., PwC Academy ), private education providers (e.g., Pearson and BPP), and digital disruptors (e.g., LinkedIn Learning, Google Digital Academy, Udemy and Udacity).
At the ‘Extend’ stage of the DLE framework, the focus is on extending the learner experience and modes of learning through digital collaborations and partnerships. This is critical for business schools that need to bring the outside world into the digital classroom and connect students with current issues and debates. In the traditional face-to-face classroom, time zones, geographical distance and availability often make it challenging to get input and engagement from business leaders and industry practitioners. However, when those boundaries are removed, it creates almost unlimited opportunities for faculty and business schools to innovate and extend their teaching and module design into business and other real-world spheres.
In a digitally-charged business school, faculty are encouraged to collaborate with external organisations, partners and tech platform providers to create practice-based digital learning experiences that bring together multiple contributors nationally and internationally. In China, GSK Consumer Healthcare China (GSK CH) and Taobao University Asia-Pacific Institute jointly developed and provide customised digital learning programmes for GSK CH employees across the Asia Pacific region.
While many business schools have been forced into evolution during the last two years, it is now time to engage in proactive evolution where business school managers and faculty take the driving seat to create purposeful digital value for the school, learners, and wider ecosystem partners. The primary objective at the ‘Evolve’ stage is to create and facilitate customised, flexible, learner-led and life-long digital learning opportunities.
At this stage, faculty have become digital pioneers and explorers, highly experienced in using multiple digital platforms to reach, engage and connect (with) learners. Faculty have gained the ability to create impactful and interdisciplinary educational experiences that draw on insight from across subject areas in line with the complexity of business and societal challenges. To support faculty at the ‘Evolution’ stage and progress the school’s transformation, business school leaders should enable integration into multi-partner learner-led platforms that offer personalised and life-long learning and skills development.
As access to knowledge has become democratised through digital platforms, it is essential that business schools supercharge themselves, not only by embracing digital technology to ‘Enhance’, ‘Engage’ and ‘Extend’, but also ‘Evolve’ through digitally-integrated partnerships that will provide the agility and responsiveness required to adapt to specific learner needs and requirements. EG