Technological progress helps us progress too. Everywhere you look, processes are being streamlined to fit our increasing demand for flexibility—from healthcare to transport, communications to retail.
The same is true in business education. Technology is now offering up a myriad of opportunities for ambitious professionals to expand their skillset without leaving their current roles, and to share the fruits of their labor more easily.
Leading the charge is the Australian Graduate School of Management at the University of New South Wales (AGSM @ UNSW) in Sydney.
The school offers innovative two-day executive education programs, focusing on a wide range of topics, including commercial acumen, strategy change and innovation, and adaptive leadership. Their flagship course, the AGSM General Manager Program, runs as a five-day residential.
These courses, delivered mainly at the AGSM campus in Sydney, allow ambitious professionals to hand-pick the topics they need to fill out their skillset, designing personalized learning experiences to keep their expertise up-to-date.
Here’s where tech comes in: once this learning period is completed, students are then awarded micro-credentials that they can use to bolster their CV.
These micro-credentials can be collected in the form of ‘digital badges’: digital stickers that link to an online version of their course certificate and which can be attached with ease to any LinkedIn profile.
These digital badges are near-impossible to counterfeit, linking as they do to a unique webpage which stores the qualification information of that individual student.
This eagerness to be at the forefront of innovation in knowledge delivery is written into AGSM’s institutional DNA.
“We were one of the pioneers in moving our MBAs into the online space, over 20 years [ago],” says head of enterprise relationships and development at AGSM, Wesley Toms.
“We were one of the first premium brands to make that move, so that started us on a trajectory of digitizing the experience of what was traditionally available in face-to-face [course delivery].”
The school learned early-on that the key to flexible learning was breaking the courses into smaller chunks to keep students engaged—a 20-year-long learning curve that saw the master’s in business technology evolve into the innovative online MBA - MBAX. Now, they’re feeding what they’ve learnt back into their face-to-face modes of delivery.
Some schools might be reluctant to attempt this, afraid that doing so would lose them longer-term students—not the Australian Graduate School of Management.
“[It’s] a balance of risk and opportunity,” explains Wesley. “I think it’s fair to say that people are already attending face-to-face [programs] less than they once were, and the reasons they’re attending are also very different.”
AGSM is increasingly concerned with crafting a unique learning experience that cannot be recreated anywhere else: that is the key to retaining strong and engaged cohorts of learners.
“[Basic] knowledge dissemination is a thing of the past as a focus for face-to-face delivery,” he declares. “There are just too many easy ways to disseminate knowledge more effectively than a face-to-face classroom—now it’s the sharing of an experience that will keep people doing face-to-face learning.”
This approach certainly seems to be working. AGSM’s short courses have been ranked number one in Australia and in the top-50 globally by the Financial Times in their 2018 Executive Education Rankings, and seeing AGSM nominated for industry awards by their clients.
With such success there must have been some trial and error—what were the challenges of creating these short courses, and in particular, the digital badges students use to signpost them in their resumes?
“I think the challenge with micro-credentials and digital badging generally is to make sure that it doesn’t become what our director, Nick Wailes, AGSM Director and Deputy Dean of UNSW Business School, calls a ‘big malaise’—a big pot of things that you can’t see anything specific [in],” says Wesley.
AGSM has worked hard to differentiate the badges on offer for students, so that badges signaling different offerings are clearly demarcated. This approach has paid off: in the last six months, the school have issued over 1000 digital badges—a 70% take-up, even for programs that were completed more than 12 months ago.
What’s more, for students who are taken with the micro-credentialing system, there are opportunities to combine courses into a longer qualification, collecting ‘points’ towards a certificate of executive management, which can be counted independently or contribute to the MBAX.
It is this destination—of cumulative qualification, and flexible academic delivery and achievement—towards which Wesley sees the future of digital badging, and indeed, graduate management education itself moving.
“Digital badging is an opportunity for us to take that further and potentially build out an entire postgraduate qualification comprised of badges,” he says.
“What digital badges offer here is the ability to not only replace long-form degrees, but to actually become the currency which long-form degrees use to remain relevant.”
At the Australian Graduate School of Management, they’re innovating constantly to make sure that their, and their students’ qualifications are relevant in a constantly-changing business age.