Building a sustainable online strategy post COVID-19?

Ginny Gibson, Stephanie Lambert and Anne Swanberg on EFMD’s invitation to a workshop in a hybrid format

The impact of COVID-19 across the globe has been (and continues to be) catastrophic and unprecedented. Whilst we cannot escape the difficulty, sadness and uncertainty that define this pandemic, in many instances we have seen people and organisations undertake a steep learning curve and ‘come together’ en masse in virtual working environments, adapting to restrictions on movement and finding ways to organise services that we usually take for granted in a face-to-face setting.

The Higher Education (HE) sector has certainly also been a victim of major disruption. “UK universities at risk of insolvency as pandemic shreds income” (6 July), “Universities to cut thousands of academics on short contracts” (20 July), and “Universities must offer more than ‘Zoom from your room’” (12 July) to cite just a small sample of headlines from the Financial Times that overshadow the future of HE across the world.

Aside from what we see in the news, as HE faculty and staff our inboxes have been flooded with invitations to online talks, single case study stories delivered in our lunch hours, start-up tech applications and platforms promising to solve all of our current problems, alongside new formats for lengthy conferences to attend from your front room (with assurances of adapted breaks and minimisation of video-call fatigue). Whilst departments and schools can feel better about their carbon footprint and reduced expenses, it is hard for the people on the ground to know where to begin for delivering education which has a real impact. We face an information and opportunity overload, both in moving forward from the crises and in choosing which tools and resources to engage with, improve and develop. The real challenge is how can we make efficient use of the time we actually have?

Learning from EOCCS Institutions

Even before COVID-19, the authors were already engaged with the online Business and Management Higher Education community. Over the last six years, we have built up strong relationships with pioneers in digital learning through our work with EOCCS (EFMD GNs Online Course Certification System) and many of us have come from these pioneering institutions. What we have learnt is that schools often find it challenging to harness the opportunities offered by online education in a systematic way. So our initial goal was to create a face-to-face Professional Development seminar to support Deans, Directors and Programme Managers to build a successful strategy for ‘going online’.

Stepping back from the broader situation at hand, it became apparent to us that the hosts of reactive workshops, webinars and presentations would have limited mileage. HE leaders instead needed to future-proof and fail-safe their offerings and adopt a more proactive approach to working online.

Then, in March, COVID-19 landed in Europe: our project moved to the backburner as institutions diverted all their energy into reactive moves to preserve what they could of their learning experience for students by moving online. It occurred to us that we had lessons to share for the greater good and that we could really offer the community something of value (for nothing) once the dust had begun to settle at the end of the academic session in June.

Based on our knowledge and work, we collectively know that the ever-present cliché ‘the new normal’ (a phrase bombarding us in headlines and event invites everywhere) is already reality for many institutions who had already developed strong online learning concepts and have received EOCCS certification. Having been part of the development of EOCCS back in 2016/17, and having chaired and coordinated Expert Review Panels for online education since then, we had seen this work in action countless times before going online became the lifeblood for all Business Schools around the world.

Stepping back from the broader situation at hand, it became apparent to us that the hosts of reactive workshops, webinars and presentations would have limited mileage. HE leaders instead needed to future-proof and fail-safe their offerings and adopt a more proactive approach to working online. In a similar way to the institutions and people we work with (in the face of COVID-19), our approach was to be resilient and responsive to the needs of our community and build on our knowledge of best practice in online learning.

A Sustainable Strategy

What emerged was EFMD GN’s first interactive networking webinar entitled “Next Stage – Developing a Sustainable Online Strategy”. Our goal was to catalyse thinking about the next steps and map out parts of the journey from survival mode to effective online learning. Although the event was founded on the rapid response to a crisis, participants and experienced moderators were able to share their successes and methods for attaining these as well as some of their key challenges. Those in attendance were able to take a glimpse into approaches beyond their own institution and into the wider sector, across regions and gain insights from both peers and experts.

As life long learners in our profession we always welcome feedback with open arms. We acknowledged the constructive criticism that an hour and a half was not enough time to address, discuss and pick apart the topics that surfaced. Indeed, the session was designed to be a fleeting predecessor to the fuller programme in October 2020. The webinar provided a metaphorical scaffolding for the full ‘Next Stage’ event which enabled institutions to start laying the foundations and building blocks for developing their own strategy with experts facilitating an analysis of context. This session in October, delivered over one and a half days, offered a deeper dive into the themes explored within the initial webinar. The objectives were to enable deans, directors and programme managers and leaders to gain a better understanding of what they have accomplished so far, establish what they want to achieve in both the medium and longer-term, and support them in creating a strategy for building the capability and capacity they need.

A new format, a new name, same excellent learning experience

Once again, interactivity and networking are a staple part of this event. We endeavour to recreate connections that are made at the registration coffee, so participants can work with peers as they would in a face-to-face environment, and to share knowledge on a greater scale with sessions moderated by experts. With the new name “Rethinking Business Education-Developing your own online strategy” comes a new format, too. There will be one free Introduction session (https://events.efmdglobal.org/events/rethinking-business-education/ familiarising the participant with the tools and frameworks required for the following three live modules, and in between these participants will be working asynchronously together with their own internal support team on projects which be central to their learning process in order to start building an online strategy.

“Developing a Sustainable Online Strategy” guides you through this process. The aim is to create a supportive community who can learn from each other and learn with each other. A range of tools have been developed that you can use through the process including an institutional questionnaire, a learning journal to capture your thoughts in systematic way and a PowerPoint template that you can use to develop a presentation for use within your institution. You will need to assemble a support group within your institutions who you can work with between the modules. During the Online sessions you will have opportunities to share your thoughts, ideas, and problems with fellow participants using action learning principles.

Overall the programme is there to provide shape and impetus so that over the course of the three weeks you can have made real progress in developing your own institutions strategy.

Ultimately the new format starting in January is able to channel expertise from moderators and peers, along with colleagues, into bigger ‘answers’ and directions as we crystallise learnings from the pandemic response and realign our focus to drive forward a sustainable strategy. The output of this event offers a foundation for you to develop your sustainable online learning strategy.

Find out more about this exciting event:
Rethinking Business Education – Developing a Sustainable Online Strategy workshop
12 January – 4 March 2021

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