Over the course of a week in March 2020, business school students moved from studying in lecture halls and classrooms on-campus to signing into online meetings and calls from home.
The coronavirus pandemic triggered the shutting of school campuses around the world, but programs were soon back up and running online. So, how is online learning changing the b-school experience?
While many students were initially skeptical about the move online, on the Master of Science in Management at Nyenrode Business Universiteit, online learning is actually changing a lot of things for the better.
Bo van der Rhee, professor of Operations Management at Nyenrode, says learning online has exposed students to new innovations and provided an added flexibility that's giving them a renewed focus in the classroom.
What’s changed for MiM students?
In years gone by, in-person classes would teach students the business theory before they were set homework designed around implementing what they learned, but Bo (right) says online learning has encouraged a change.
He teaches ‘flipped classrooms’ at Nyenrode—an approach where students work on problem sets in class, limiting the theory and focusing on the application and testing of ideas.
Even before the pandemic, he posted videos online in advance of the class so more time could be spent solving real-life problems and applying learning in the class itself. Now with a fully-fledged online program in place, Bo provides theory in a virtual setting via videos and slides and uses online classes to focus solely on practice and implementation.
Classes, lectures, and learning materials have all been made readily available to re-watch online too. “It’s an immediate advantage,” says Bo.
“In the past, only one or two students would record a lecture and they’d rarely engage with the material. Now, students can revisit any class quickly. It’s an advantage of online learning that we can [eventually] introduce to the full-time program.”
Nyenrode have also been changing the way students are assessed. Two years ago, exams would be taken in the traditional way, with papers being individually scanned and marked.
“While I don’t believe testing should be done online in a remote setting, we’ve been running exams on specially-designed Chromebooks over the past 18 months,” Bo says. It not only improves marking for professors, but also provides online feedback for students, he adds.
This process has been rapidly accelerating over the last couple of months, where even more students are benefiting from exams moving to online testing software.
Online Learning: Challenges and Opportunities
Bo says he’s seen more advances in online learning in the last few weeks than in the last five years before the coronavirus pandemic. He also says it's giving MiM students added flexibility, making it easier to discuss quick topics like exam resits.
Being able to set up impromptu meetings is something that would’ve been impossible on campus, with conflicting timetables and room bookings.
However, while there are many advantages to studying online, Nyenrode is not planning to move its MiM program to a fully-online format.
Students, Bo says, can more easily learn from and network with each other in a campus environment. He’s found ways to work around this, splitting groups into smaller teams during Microsoft Teams calls, but switching between the different groups and keeping students engaged online is not easy.
He suggests moving smaller catchups online could unlock more time for students. “In the future we can use the classroom for what really is important, like peer to peer learning,” Bo says.
While the alumni network of Nyenrode is tight-knit, with students able to reach out and connect over the duration of their careers, it’s galvanized by the campus experience. Bo worries that without real-life experiences to draw from, those bonds may not be as strong.
What does the future hold?
“It’s a case of taking the important lessons from the crisis and moving forward with them, while still understanding the importance of an in-person classroom," Bo says.
Ultimately, the workplace is likely to be permanently influenced by the crisis. Shifting to online classes at Nyenrode reflects the real-world business environment today.
And it's likely that, even when Nyenrode's MiM students return to campus, the experience of the forced shift to learning and working online will have a lasting influence—both on business schools and the wider working world.
“For students, getting more familiar with online learning will certainly help them in their future careers,” Bo says.
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Amsterdam & Breukelen - Netherlands