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Hybrid Working and Blended Learning During Covid

When, in early 2020, the Covid threat in the UK became clear, the university took its executive and business education provision online almost overnight.

At the same time, many delegates and customers were facing unprecedented challenges in their own organisations and major upheaval with their executive education could have been enough to make them put their studies on hold.

However, the university’s commitment to hybrid working and blended learning enabled a smooth transition to a fully online model. Executive Education at Alliance MBS has a dedicated learning design and technology team with specialist expertise in supporting busy professionals and online learning. Angela Gardner, Head of E-learning, looks at how executive education adapted to the changing situation, and which changes are here to stay.

We’ve taken blended learning seriously for a long time. It’s one of the things that has made our corporate training and education so successful. Because clients and delegates can access learning off-site as well as on, they’re able to fit it around their professional and personal commitments and relate their learning more easily to their roles and organisations.

This meant that in March 2020, when business and executive education went from in-person sessions - which enabled delegates to meet and share ideas and expertise face-to-face - to an entirely virtual learning environment almost overnight, we were in the perfect position to ramp-up what we already had in place.

Because we already had a well-seasoned blended learning approach, this transition from in-person to online learning was made much easier for our clients and delegates.

Learning from experience

The fact our executive education department operates as a part of the wider business school also put us in a much better position to manage the switch to virtual learning. As a leading business school, AMBS attracts students from across the world, so faced Covid-related logistical challenges much earlier than some providers.

Our Global MBA boasts alumni from over 176 countries with six global hubs across Asia, South America, and the Middle East. Many students come from China, so we had already had to implement a fully virtual learning environment for those students unable to return from their Christmas break, months before there was any prospect of changes affecting the UK. This meant we were in the perfect position to roll this out across our executive education and wider business school courses seamlessly.

Keeping executive education engaging

For our business courses, it was important during early lockdown that we didn’t fall into the trap of being just another Zoom call. Many of our delegates had had their entire working lives suddenly switched onto a small screen at their kitchen tables. We had to find a way that business education remained as engaging virtually as it was face-to-face with our academics.

To do this, we worked closely with our academics to redesign workshops so they remained stimulating to an online audience but still offered their wealth of expert knowledge. We also made use of technologies such as Padlet, online polls and word clouds to allow delegates to comment and share ideas in a visual way, like they would in an on-site workshop.

What we found very quickly was that all our delegates were keen to connect with people outside of their day-to-day roles and households. There was a real willingness across the board to get the most out of the new virtual workshops.

What resulted is that our evaluation scores from our business and executive education courses remained high. Our history and experience, and our willingness to embrace new technologies meant we were able to deliver a highly rated and engaging experience in executive education in unprecedented times.

Building back better

So now that things are starting to get back to normal, the university has students back on campus and people are looking to go back to face-to-face meetings and training, we’re going through a new process of identifying which changes we keep and what returns to ‘normal’.

What we’ve found is that some of our clients with customised programmes are opting to keep some elements online. We’re also looking to keep using some of the technologies which made those online sessions more engaging.

Ultimately, we’d like to see a flexible, hybrid working approach to business education delivery in the future to offer organisations and delegates a choice in how they access business education to best fit in with their lives and work.

What the Covid-19 pandemic has taught us is that, as a university, we’re ideally placed to offer business education in the best way to suit the needs of our executive education delegates and flex our delivery in the best way to make it fit within their busy lives.

Blog posts give the views of the author, and are not necessarily those of Alliance Manchester Business School and The University of Manchester.

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